Driving Back-to-School Sales With a Culturally Sensitive Path-to-Purchase Model

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, August 28, 2015

Did you know that Hispanics are twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites and African-American shoppers to start planning their back-to-school shopping soon after their children begin summer break? And whites are twice as likely as Hispanics to start planning back-to-school shopping once they get a list from their children’s teachers.

For leading manufacturers and retailers, these insights can mean the difference between winning or losing during the back-to-school shopping season – the second-largest seasonal shopping period of the year in the U.S. In fact, according to Statista, in 2014, it represented an estimated $75 billion in spending and the competitiveness continues to grow each year.

A recent culturally sensitive path-to-purchase study we conducted allows us to better understand the key drivers for white and multicultural back-to-school shoppers.

The study found that 64% of non-Hispanic whites and Asians say they make a shopping list for their back-to-school supplies before entering a retail store while only 45% of Hispanics say they make a shopping list. 



Additionally, 60% of whites do not set a budget, spending whatever it takes to get the items the child may need. This is in comparison to 56% of Asians, 46% of Hispanics and 47% of African-Americans.

One explanation for these differences is income. Household income data published in 2013 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Asians ($67K) and non-Hispanic whites ($58K) have the greatest median household income in the U.S. Media incomes are lower for Hispanics ($41K) and African-Americans ($35K).

While they have the highest median household income, when it comes to “extra” items, Asians may be less inclined than any other cultural group to make added purchases – buying only the items on the school-provided list. This is where culturally sensitive path-to-purchase insights helped explain why.

· Asians tend to practice thrift as a virtue, rather than as a strict necessity. Asians also tend to save more of their money given the Long Term Orientation than other cultural groups, which helps explain why they were least likely group to purchase items above and beyond the school list.

· Whites seem to be the most independent shoppers of all consumers. Non-Hispanic whites are least likely to rely on family members, their children, and friends for advice on what to buy, where to go, or how much to spend on back-to-school supplies.

· Hispanics and African-Americans, on the other hand, were twice as likely to get input on shopping (i.e., when to shop, how much to spend or where to shop) from their siblings as whites and Asians.

Collectivism, the cultural value that places greater importance on the group over the individual, helps explain why Hispanics rely on family members and other people for advice.

Additionally, Hispanics, particularly those born outside the U.S., tend to skew high in “uncertainty avoidance,” a cultural value coined by cross-cultural pioneer, Geert Hofstede which describes the extent to which members of some societies attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty.

The convenience of a single shopping trip to one store does not trump this need to avoid uncertainty.Hispanics often will go back to the same store after they’ve purchased products for their children – to ensure they are the right purchases.

Different consumer groups purchase back-to-school supplies not necessarily based on income level but instead on cultural values. Once retailers better understand the differences and commonalities in shopping behavior amongst ethnic groups, they can implement strategies to increase market share during this period.

By designing marketing programs in early summer, targeting Hispanic and African-Americans and offering programs that will help them save or accumulate points for the back-to-school season are both useful tactics. As the retailer becomes “part of the group” and understands the cultural aspects of their spending habit, they will win loyalty.

1 comment about "Driving Back-to-School Sales With a Culturally Sensitive Path-to-Purchase Model".
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  1. Roberto Siewczynski from Epsilon, August 28, 2015 at 12:29 p.m.

    Interesting work John - keep it up! Love the insight/data.

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