Back-to-School Shopping Is Not the Predictable Retail Event It Once Was, Reports NPD

Port Washington, NY, July 10, 2017 — U.S. students traditionally go back to school during the same general time period each year, but the timing of back-to-school shopping and what consumers are focusing their spending on has become less consistent and  predictable in recent years, according to the new Back-to-School Report from leading global information company The NPD Group.

Back-to-school shopping is starting earlier and lasting longer. While two-thirds of consumers plan to start their back-to-school shopping the same time as last year, 28 percent said they planned to start earlier. More than 30 percent of consumers told NPD that they started their 2016 back-to-school shopping in August, and more than a third said they completed it in August. Although August claimed the largest share of the 2016 back-to-school shopping period, 58 percent of consumers started their shopping before August and nearly a third completed their shopping before August. There are also those who deferred their shopping, at least some of it. A third of back-to-school shoppers didn’t finish until September or later, with some making final purchases well into the school year.

Back-to-School Shopping Is Not the Predictable Retail Event It Once Was, Reports NPD

“The scope of the back-to-school shopping season has expanded due to the endless shopping opportunities, both in-store and online, enabling consumers to spread their spending out and address needs as they arise,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc. “As a result, the back-to-school shopping season is starting earlier, lasting longer, and expanding beyond the traditional thinking of a single peak retail period. This kind of change is the new constant in retail.”

Almost 60 percent of consumers indicated that they only buy back-to-school items on sale/discount but, timing is also important. When asked about tax-free holidays, more than 40 percent of consumers make their back-to-school purchases whenever it is most convenient, regardless of these sale dates.

When consumers do begin shopping for the 2017-2018 school year, the majority said they plan to spend about the same or more on most categories. More than 45 percent of consumers plan to increase their spending on fashion and school supplies, the top categories for the season. Spending plans on electronics are more evenly divided with a third of consumers planning on spending more, and 38 percent planning on spending less. Over a third of consumers plan to spend more on personal care and grooming products this year, but college-focused categories like bedding, kitchen items and small electrics may be less of a priority, with 45 percent indicating that they plan to spend less on these products than they did last year.

Back-to-School Shopping Is Not the Predictable Retail Event It Once Was, Reports NPD

“Despite the lack of passion for fashion among young people, these categories are important to back-to-school shoppers which spells opportunity that can expand beyond apparel and into the fashion of dorm decor,” added Cohen. “The challenge for today’s retailers, both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce, is to bring the excitement of back-to-school shopping back into the equation for all students, from kindergarten through their final year of college.”

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / LAB Series: 2017 Back-to-School Report

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