Mass Merchants Go To The Head of The Class

The massive heat waves all across the country have ended, summer camps are coming to a close, and children are scrambling to finish the reading lists they have ignored all summer.   These can only mean one thing—the first day of school is just around the corner.  Using Compete’s panel of 2 million consumers and the results of our Summer 2011 Shopper Intelligence survey, we explored the hot ticket items this year and where consumers will be buying these goods.

Forty percent of consumers are going back-to-school shopping this year.  Parents of children in elementary school make up 44 percent of back-to-school shoppers, parents of children in middle or high school comprise 43 percent, and parents of college students represent 14 percent.  But marketers should not gear all of their back-to-school messages towards parents—1 out of 5 back-to-school shoppers are students themselves, shopping for their own school needs.

Given that the bulk of shopping will be conducted on behalf of students in primary and secondary school, it is no surprise that well over half of all shoppers will buy school supplies, clothing, and shoes.  Electronics, like computers and printers, will also be in high demand, while college essentials will be shopped by a smaller group of consumers.

The outlook for retailers is positive this year, as less than 1 out of 5 consumers plan to spend less than they did last year on back-to-school items, and in fact, 25 percent planning to spend more.  Consumers will spend the most on electronics, averaging $469 per person, which is not entirely unexpected given the high ticket price on these items.  Students will be well dressed on their first day of school, as shoppers will spend an average of $264 on clothing.  And they will of course be prepared for class with notebooks, binders, folders, and pens for which the average shopper will spend $183.

Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target are among the many mass merchants that will come out on top this season. Seventy-one percent of shoppers will conduct their back-to-school shopping at mass merchants, making them the most preferred back-to-school retailers.  Other popular back-to-school destinations include office supply retailers, department stores, clothing stores, and shoe stores.

The online channel will play a key role in helping consumers complete their back-to-school shopping. Fifty-seven percent of shoppers will conduct research online before purchasing items.  Retail websites, search engines, and emails from retailers will be the most utilized online resources.  Even more importantly, 80 percent of consumers will purchase back-to-school items online this year.  Half of electronics shoppers, 46 percent of dorm and kitchen shoppers, and 45 percent of bed and bath shoppers will purchase at least half of those products online.  School supplies, however, will be purchased mainly offline, with only 18 percent of shoppers purchasing at least half of those items online.

Online giants Amazon.com and Walmart.com are ready for back-to-school shoppers.  Both companies created easy to navigate back-to-school landing pages, one specialized for primary and secondary student and another for college students.  Walmart’s pages are already very popular among consumers, each garnering about 200,000 visitors during the first week in August alone!  Traffic to these and other retailers will no doubt continue to grow over the next few weeks, which means online retailers need to stay at the top of their game.  Weekly specials and free shipping promotions are a great way to win over consumers and build brand equity.  And what better time to build loyalty among your customer base than with the winter holiday shopping season just around the corner.

About Debra Miller Arbesman:
Debra Miller Arbesman is senior associate, retailer and consumer products at Compete, a Kantar Media company that helps brands improve their marketing based on the online behavior of millions of consumers.