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Consumer Trends

Online back to school shopping: 2014 outlook and digital tactics to watch

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Online consumer spending outlook

Second in sales only to the winter holidays for many retailers, the back to school (BTS) and back to college (BTC) shopping season already is underway. According to the latest consumer survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, both BTS and BTC shoppers plan to spend a bit more this year than last: 

  • Well over one-third of BTS shoppers expect to make some portion of their purchases online, as do 45 percent of BTC shoppers. That said, sizeable numbers of BTS and BTC shoppers also anticipate shopping in department stores, clothing stores, discount stores, office supply, clothing stores and other locations.
  • As some of the biggest ticket items on shopping lists, electronics and computer-related equipment will command the lion’s share of spend: Online BTS shoppers expect to spend an average of $330, somewhat more than online BTC shoppers’ average of $309. Clothing, shoes and school suppliers are also on shopping lists this summer, among other items. 
  • Smartphones and tablets will figure heavily in shopping. More than half of BTS shoppers who own a smartphone plan to use this device to research products and compare prices, four in 10 will look up retailer information and 37 percent will redeem coupons and purchase products. Tablets will also be tapped for many of these same activities: Three of five online BTS shoppers who own a tablet anticipate researching products and comparing prices, while nearly half expect to purchase products. 

As online BTS and BTS shoppers look for inspiration online, visual imagery and user-generated content can be powerful influence factors as they choose products and whom they want to buy from.  Some ideas we’ve been watching include: 

User-generated content and images. Following in the footsteps of Burberry’s “Art of the Trench” campaign to engage customers, Sephora launched the “Beauty Board” this year for customers to post photos of themselves wearing products. Posts include links to specific products used in the photo to help customers buy and emulate that look. 

Vine.  Lowe’s created the Vine series “Fix in Six,” showcasing quick “clever improvements” such as hanging a gallery of pictures, organizing rolls of gift ribbon and keeping squirrels away from bird feeder contents. At just six seconds in length, “the looping aspect of Vine means people will often watch a video multiple times,” Twitter’s head of content strategy has noted, so companies should “think about how that looping effect can help tell a story or spotlight a product.”  

Instagram. Nordstrom recently created a microsite to help its Instagram followers jump directly from a posted product to the site for further exploration. This site aggregates multiple “Instagram Picks” and helps the follower make the leap to additional product information, user reviews and point of purchase.  As another example of social merchandising, IKEA Russia this month rolled out a “pseudo-site catalog” within Instagram for its Millennials-targeted PS product line. 

Visit the Retail Library to see the full BTS and BTC consumer survey results. What visual methods are you using to engage back to school and back to college shoppers this year? Share yours in the comments. 


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Historical data and top trends: Find all of NRF's back-to-school and back-to-college resources in one place.