Not only will consumers finally be spending more on back-to-school shopping this year, they'll be doing it in decidedly different ways. A new back-to-school survey from Deloitte reports that 28% of consumers plan to spend more this year than they did last year, and only 17% plan to spend less.
"The overall tone was a little surprising, and very upbeat," Alison Paul, Deloitte's vice chairman and retail sector leader in the U.S., tells Marketing Daily, "with 8 out of 10 expecting to spend the same or more. Consumers told us they would buy some more expensive items, including PCs and cell phones, and we believe that is the result of their not having bought those things for two or three seasons."
The study also found evidence that, in some ways, families are relaxing some of their financial vigilance -- with 58% saying they will buy more items on sale, for example, down from 90% in 2008, and 70% in 2009. "But more than two-thirds tell us they will either pay with cash or debit cards, so they are still very conscious of not wanting to overspend," she says.
Families also plan to shop differently -- with 29% saying they will use their mobile phones to make shopping more efficient, up from 6% last year, and 30% intending to tap into social networking sites for shopping ideas, up from 10% last year.
Consumers are heading back to department stores, with 31% planning to shop there, up from 26% last year. And while discount/value stores continue to be the most popular spot for back-to-school items, with 89%, office-supply stores moved into the second-most-popular shopping destination, while dollar stores -- the darling of the recession -- slipped. Only 33% of those surveyed will do some back-to-school shopping there, down from 40% last year.
The back-to-school season is always considered a critical part of the retail calendar, but experts are watching the results even more closely this year, to see just how sturdy the tentative recovery in retail really is.
Brand Keys, a customer loyalty consultancy, expects consumers to spend $584 for back-to-school clothing and supplies this year, a 10% jump. (A study released by the National Retail Federation earlier this month also predicted a 10% gain, with spending expected to rise to $606.40 per family.)
But other experts are more tempered in their outlook. "We'll see a little bit of an uptick in spending this season compared to the prior year," Ted Vaughan, a partner in BDO's retail and consumer product practice, tells Marketing Daily, "but that's due in large part to just how bad last year was. We expect consumers to continue what they've been doing, like reusing -- 'Does last year's backpack really need to be replaced?'-- and cutting back, 'Do we really need to buy all these clothes and shoes?'"
He also expect retailers to be extremely promotional in their efforts to win over back-to-school bucks. "That's why stores are already out there tempting consumers with special deals, including buy-one-get-one-free offers and other enhancements," he says.
Kohl's is touting an additional 15% off school uniforms, for instance; Target is offering 10% off many college essentials; and Walmart.com is offering free shipping on dorm essentials and school uniforms. "The idea, for retailers, is to get 'em in early and build customer loyalty," he says, "not have them waiting for last-minute markdowns."