This year’s Back-to-School season
Ahh the Back-to-School shopping season! That make or break time of year for many of the manufacturers and retailers who toil in the world of academic supplies and related paraphernalia.
It can be a stressful time. And although the stress levels this year are likely no worse than usual, the stressful time is extending. The back-to-school season is now much longer than it used to be.
The reasons are numerous -- rapid delivery and the ease of shopping online let consumers procrastinate; retailers themselves have looked to drive BTS sales earlier in the year by promoting items at the start of the summer; and those early-summer promotions tend to lead to discounting as the start of school approaches, rewarding bargain-conscious consumers who wait until the last minute.
The result is that that the BTS season is stretching on both ends.
Research from Google shows that consumers are beginning their search for BTS purchases earlier and earlier. This year’s BTS-related searches began a week earlier than in 2014, and three weeks earlier than in 2013.
At the same time, research from The NPD Group shows that consumers are doing their BTS clothes shopping later than usual. The majority of consumers surveyed didn’t start shopping until early August, which is generally considered the end of the season. And many consumers aren’t expecting to finish shopping until after the school bell rings.
As The NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen put it: “When so many consumers are planning to do their back-to-school shopping in the months not traditionally considered part of the season by retailers, it’s time to break with tradition and change the way we market and measure this shopping season.”
So just when will the BTS season hit its peak? Below are the dates when BTS sales peaked last year in a number of retail categories. Assuming that the early indicators of a lengthening season hold true, then the next few weeks will prove to be the top of the slope.
Peak Week in Sales in 2014
Grocery Stores = August 30
Drug Stores = August 23
Brick & Mortar = August 23
Online = August 16
Average School Start = August 23
Making the (up)grade
Among the more interesting developments in this year’s BTS season is that one of the bigger items in the shopping cart -- the notebook PC -- is facing some unusual challenges.
Microsoft is in the process of rolling out its Windows 10 release. And the timing of that -- in the middle of what is traditionally the second-largest season for notebook sales -- presents challenges to both retailers and PC manufacturers.
“Traditionally an OS release has been a positive occurrence for hardware sales, but this year that typical cadence has been called into question,” according to Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for consumer technology at The NPD Group. “Windows 10 has been positioned by Microsoft mostly as a software upgrade and with the short window of time between the release of the OS and its general availability the stock of Windows 10 PCs in retail stores, primed to take advantage of the season, is likely to be fairly limited until around Labor Day which is probably too late for an incremental burst of selling.”
In other markets, things look a bit better.
For example, early indicators suggest that sales of athletic footwear will be quite high. Dollar sales in the category grew 8 percent in the first half of the year, while the average selling price rose 7 percent.
“June is a prelude to back-to-school, making this mid-year performance a positive indicator for the back-to-school season,” according to Matt Powell, sports industry analyst, The NPD Group. “These sales results in the first half of 2015 bode well for a strong second half of the year.”
The big winners for BTS are likely to be retro running shoes, which saw sales soar in the first half.
Pencil it in
As you’re waiting to see what the final numbers are for BTS 2015, you may want to do some shopping for the teachers in your life. As it turns out, teachers spend a fair amount of their own money for classroom supplies. That hardly seems fair.
So if you’d like to help, check out our infographic on what teachers need for the classroom this year.