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Consumer Trends
Back-to-School Shoppers Slowly Tackling Lists This Summer
For immediate release
August 19, 2015

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WASHINGTON – As families artfully craft their back-to-school shopping plans around promotions and even their state’s sales tax holiday, it seems there is still quite a bit of shopping left to be done. According to NRF’s latest Back-to-School Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average family with children in grades K-12 has completed just half (50.4%) of their shopping, which is even with results from last year’s survey (49.9%).

“As expected, families are carefully measuring where, when and how they should spend on fall apparel items, school supplies, electronics and other necessities,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Late summer promotions and sales tax holidays around the country are likely contributing to the delay in back-to-school shopping this year, which means the next few weeks could be exceptionally busy for retailers large and small.”

“Retailers, hoping to strike a chord with both budget-conscious and value-focused parents, will roll out hard to pass up promotions designed to capture the attention of those last-minute shoppers,” said Shay. 

"As expected, families are carefully measuring where, when and how they should spend on fall apparel items, school supplies, electronics and other necessities."
Matthew Shay

Though fewer people this year admit that they have not yet started their shopping (19.5%) compared to last year (23.6%), it’s clear that most of those who have started shopping still have quite a bit left on their lists. A number of families, however, stated they already have everything they need for the first day of school with 13.3 percent saying that they have finished their shopping. 

Coupons and promotions continue to resonate with today’s shopper, and the survey this year found that mom and dad certainly have done their own homework when it comes to the new supplies, apparel and electronic items on their lists: those who have already started shopping indicate that about half of their purchases (51.3%) were influenced by coupons, sales and promotions, down from 58 percent last year.

When it comes to classroom needs, the survey found parents are on the hook to contribute several items. On average, parents say that 64.4 percent of their purchases of pencils, folders and other school supplies are influenced by classroom lists or school requirements. In addition, 45.9 percent of their electronics purchases for back to school are influenced by the lists and requirements of their family’s schools.

“Given the extra costs some parents take on these days when it comes to stocking their children’s classroom, many will certainly look to take advantage of retailer’s sales and promotions as well as their state’s sales tax holidays as they wrap up their lists,” said Prosper’s Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “More retailers than ever are in the back-to-school spectrum, so it won’t be difficult for mom and dad to find what they need wherever they shop, be it their favorite website for free shipping offers or their local drug store for last-minute deals on supplies.”

When asked what payment method families shopping for back-to-school used most often, 44.6 percent have or will use their debit cards, while others have or will swipe their credit cards (27.7%) or pay with cash (25.5%).

As for where consumers will finish their shopping, discount stores will see the most traffic (53.4%), while 46.8 percent will shop at department stores, 36.6 percent at clothing stores and 12.8 percent will wrap up at electronics stores; 27.2 percent will check out retailers’ best online deals, up from 24.8 percent this time last year.

In-store ads, coupons and promotions continue to be the big influencers for families shopping back to school. Parents say traditional media has the most impact, saying that coupons (43.4%), in-store promotions (35.3%) and advertising inserts (31%) influence them the most to shop at a particular store. Word of mouth (21.5%) and television ads (19.4%) also make a difference. 

Families Shopping for College Necessities Waiting for Late-Season Deals, NRF Survey Finds

College shoppers are delaying the inevitable and waiting until absolutely necessary to fill up the family car with their college needs. NRF’s Back-to-College Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics found college students and their families have completed about half (49.1%) of their shopping lists compared to 53.7 percent this time last year. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of those planning to shop for college necessities have been busy enjoying the summer days and have not yet begun their shopping, down slightly from last year (26.2%).

College shoppers are also turning to coupons, sales or promotions to get the best bang for their buck: the survey found nearly half (48.1%) of what parents have purchased has been influenced by early summer deals and promotions, which is the same as last year but higher than the 44.4 percent in 2013. 

Many colleges and universities today require incoming and/or current students to come armed and ready with their own computer. The survey this year found 49 percent of the electronic items college students and their parents have already purchased were influenced by their class or school requirements, down from 56 percent last year.

While most back-to-college shoppers say that they have or will use debit cards to make purchases (41.8%), a number of shoppers have already or will use their credit cards (31.9%) or have chosen to pay with cash (22.1%) when buying supplies, apparel and electronic items for class.

Much like back-to-school shoppers, most of those shopping for college will cross off bedding, apparel and other items from their lists at discount stores (46.3%), department stores (38.8%), clothing (28.8%) and electronics stores (20.3%).

Traditional media also resonates well with back-to-college shoppers. The survey found four in 10 (42.3%) college shoppers agree coupons influence their purchases, and nearly three in 10 (27.6%)  responding that in-store promotions and advertising inserts (26.2%) are also big influencers.

About the Survey:

NRF’s 2015 Back-to-School and Back-to-College Surveys were designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to back-to-school and back-to-college spending. The surveys were conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics. The poll of 6,758 consumers was conducted August 4-11, 2015. The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

Prosper Insights & Analytics delivers executives timely, consumer-centric insights from multiple sources. As a comprehensive resource of information, Prosper represents the voice of the consumer and provides knowledge to marketers regarding consumer views on the economy, personal finance, retail, lifestyle, media and domestic and world issues.

About NRF
The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association. Based in Washington, D.C., NRF represents discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy.

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