Back-to-School Shopping is a Year-Round Activity for Digital Natives Last week, the National Retail Federation (NRF) released the results of its annual back-to-school spending survey. Total back-to-school spending is forecast to hit $74.9 billion in 2014, up from $72.5 billion last year. The average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 (up 5 percent from last year) and the average back-to-school spending for a college student is expected to rise 10 percent to $916.48. According to the NRF survey:
  • More than a third of back-to-school shoppers and 45 percent of back-to-college shoppers plan to make a portion of their purchases online
  • More than half of back-to-school smartphone-owning shoppers plan to use their devices to compare prices, 40 percent will look up retailer info, and 37 percent plan to redeem coupons and purchase products from their phones
  • Three in five tablet-owning back-to-school shoppers anticipate researching products and comparing prices, while nearly half expect to purchase products from their tablets
In addition to NRF’s findings, Cassandra Report revealed that 54 percent of shoppers will do more pre-purchase research than they did just five years ago. And, in a recent study of back-to-school shopping habits, eMarketer found students and parents start researching their back-to-school needs long before stores notice an uptick in purchases – last year 23 percent began back-to-school research before July 4, with nearly two-thirds (65 percent) starting by the end of July, according to a Google/Ipsos study of the 2013 season. With the shopping season in full swing, retailers need to be sure they are meeting the needs of consumers looking for inspiration online. The NRF suggests, and we agree, that visual imagery and user-generated content are powerful influence factors as shoppers conduct their research. Photography is what sells the product, so spend the time and money to create great imagery. In apparel, a popular back-to-school category, make note of the size the model is wearing and offer five times the normal zoom so shoppers can see product details. And, don’t forget the power of online video in increasing digital conversions. We also suggest clearly articulating shipping and returns policies online (how long do shoppers have to return an item, will the money be refunded to the card used or offered as a store credit, etc.). This increases the comfort level in making digital purchases, especially for high-consideration, big ticket back-to-school items such as electronics. Is your back-to-school strategy meeting the needs of shoppers looking to digital channels for inspiration this year? If not, there’s still time. According to the Google/Ipsos study, “As mobile natives with near-universal access to the Internet, teens and college students are shopping throughout the school year and are less reliant on parents or friends for rides to the mall to do their shopping.” This is great news for retailers targeting teens and college students as they can extend the “back-to-school season” year-round.  Even though a prolonged season being the new normal, now is the time for them to develop a strategy for providing inspiration via Instagram, Twitter, Vine and other social channels, as well as on their own e-commerce sites.