Online back-to-school shopping will increase this year, as 29% of shoppers' spending budget will be spent online. The biggest increase in back-to-school spending will be on electronics, such as smartphones and tablets, according to Deloitte's annual back-to-school report.

Consumers are expected to spend $27.8 billion for the back-to-school season, up just 1.8% from last year’s spending, according to consulting firm Deloitte’s 2019 Back-to-School Shopping report.

The report surveyed 1,200 parents who have at least one child attending school in grades Kindergarten-12 and was conducted online May 31-June 6, 2019. Back-to-school shopping season for Deloitte includes school-related shopping from July to September.

The portion of back-to-school sales that is spent online is expected to increase, as 29% of shoppers’ spending budget will be spent online, up from from 22% since 2016, according to the survey. In addition, 56% will be spent in retail stores. (The remaining 15% surveyed in the report were undecided.)

In terms of categories, shoppers spend more than half (54%) of their back-to-school spending budget on clothing and accessories, followed by school supplies (22%), electronic gadgets (13%) and computers and hardware (11%).

The biggest increase in spending will be on electronics and other gadgets, such as smartphones and tablets, according to the study. This category is expected to rise 29%, or $800 million, compared with 2018’s spending, according to the report. However, the category with the most to lose will be the computers and hardware category. Deloitte expects this category to decline by 16%, or $600 million, compared with last year.

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“We continue to see just over half of purchases occurring in the stores, with undecided shoppers gravitating online,” says Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader. “Retailers who understand this will position a range of in-store and digital offerings to meet consumers where they are.”

Retailers stand a chance to engage consumers on their mobile device as 60% of back-to-school shoppers plan to use one during their back-to-school shopping, up from 53% in 2018. Of those:

  • 54% plan to access a retailer’s website via a mobile device
  • 51% plan to get pricing information via a mobile device
  • 51% plan to collect coupons, discounts and sales information via a mobile device
  • 50% plan to access a mobile shopping app
  • 49% plan to make a purchase via a mobile device

According to the report, 60% of shoppers plan to start back-to-school shopping in late July and early August. But Deloitte suspects consumers who start shopping in the two weeks immediately before the start of the school year may end up spending more as they hurry to complete their shopping at once.

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Average back-to-school spending will increase

Research firm eMarketer Inc. expects back-to-school ecommerce sales during July and August to grow 14.4%, reaching $97.58 billion, compared with last year. If that prediction is accurate, eMarketer says ecommerce sales will then represent 10.4% of total back-to-school sales.

The firm also predicts that sales in core shopping categories—including apparel and accessories; books, music and video; computers and consumer electronics; and office equipment and supplies—will grow 13.7% to $50.4 billion. Forecasts and estimates of eMarketer are based on an analysis of data from research firms, government agencies, media firms and public companies.

The National Retail Federation’s prediction is in line with eMarketer’s. NRF says that total spending for K-12 and college back-to-school products will reach $80.7 billion, down from last year’s $82.8 billion in spending. It’s worth noting that Deloitte’s prediction does not factor in college spending. NRF surveyed 7,660 consumers with K-12-age children and college shoppers from July 1-8.

Survey respondents with children in K-12 plan to spend an average of $696, up from $684 last year, totaling $26.2 billion, according to NRF—this more closely aligns with Deloitte’s projection. Of the families surveyed, fewer (although NRF did not disclose how many) said they had children in K-12, so while the average spending per respondent is increasing, the total spent will actually be down from last year’s $27.5 billion.

Meanwhile, college students expect to spend an average of $976, up from last year’s $942. Despite the growth in average spend per respondent, the total spend will still be slightly lower than last year’s $55.3 billion at $54.5 billion.

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“Consumers are in a strong position given the nation’s growing economy, and we see this reflected in what they say they will spend on back-to-class items this year,” says NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “We’re expecting record spending and retailers are ready to provide students with all the items they need for a successful school year.”

Pricing and deals remain important

According to the NRF survey, 89% of both K-12 respondents and college shoppers still had half or more of their back-to-school purchases left to complete, as of July 1-8. Of those respondents, 49% said they were waiting for the best deals before they made their purchases. And 90% of respondents with kids age K-12 and 85% of college shoppers plan to take advantage of free shipping promotions.

Plus, 69% of Deloitte survey respondents said sales and discounts are a deciding factor on where to shop for back-to-school products, while 57% cite competitive prices.

“Price, product and convenience are the foundation of back-to-school shopping, like reading, writing and arithmetic,” Sides of Deloitte says. “Nearly all shoppers are in the market for school supplies, which tend to be most price-driven.”

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