Practicality Will Determine if Brick or Click is the 2017 Back-to-School Leader, Reports NPD

Port Washington, NY, July 17, 2017 — The back-to-school season is the second most important time in the retail calendar for many industries, behind the holiday season. Practical decisions related to factors like price, convenience, and product quality are paramount when it comes to where and how consumers do their back-to-school shopping, whether in-store or online, according to the new Back-to-School Report from leading global information company The NPD Group.

More than 70 percent of last year’s back-to-school purchases were made in stores. Looking across the 14 industries included in the NPD study, in-store purchases varied from a low of 61 percent for sports equipment to a high of 78 percent for school supplies. The most important benefits of in-store shopping identified by consumers, regardless of the category shopped for, point to practical thinking – the ability to get their other shopping done and  having a wide selection of brands/products from which to choose. The go-to retailers for back-to-school purchases were mass merchants like Target and Walmart.

Best/lowest prices, sales/discounts/promotions, and wide product selection are top considerations when deciding where to back-to-school shop – for some key categories, one-stop shopping, and trusted brand availability enter into the top three. Store displays and word-of-mouth are among the top ways consumers research and learn about where to go or what to buy when shopping for most back-to-school categories. Free shipping was identified as one of the most important benefits of online shopping, which represented 21 percent of 2016 back-to-school purchases, on average.

“Back-to-school shopping is about satisfying a list of needs and the retailer or product that delivers value and ease in doing so will ring the sale,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc. “Brick-and-mortar retail has been challenged this past year and overall online growth, while still strong, has begun to show signs of slowing. How well marketers reengage consumers and meet their needs will determine who prevails as the back-to-school leader.”

The practical personality of back-to-school shoppers is evident in the most important drivers behind their purchase decisions. Regardless of the category being purchased, almost 60 percent of consumers revealed that they only buy back-to-school items on sale/discount. But these shoppers aren’t solely focused on cost, value matters too. Quality/durability and functionality rounded out the top three factors that influenced back-to-school purchases. When it comes to fashion (apparel, footwear, and accessories), comfort takes the place of functionality, ahead of color, style, and brand. Overall, there is little loyalty when it comes to brands, the majority of consumers said they buy both national and store brands. Compared to other shopping seasons, an average of 43 percent of consumers said they are more concerned with the quality of the merchandise they purchase for back-to-school and less concerned about look/design.

“Marketers must appeal to the back-to-school shopper’s sensible side and understand their spending priorities,” says Cohen. ”The spending dynamics that unfold between online and in-store shopping this back-to-school season will be indicative of future consumer behavior. It will be important for manufacturers and retailers to translate the nuances behind back-to-school shopping activity and adjust their strategies for upcoming seasons accordingly.”

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

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