Consumers Decide Back-to-School Shopping Can Wait

With plenty of last year’s supplies stowed in the closet and the option to restock at-will, back-to-school shoppers may be in no hurry to fill their shopping baskets by August, according to Deloitte’s annual Back-to-School and Back-to-College surveys.

Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) of surveyed parents shopping for children in grades K-12 said the back-to-school shopping season is less important to their families because they replenish school supplies throughout the year and feel less need to stock up. More people may take their time to finish their shopping lists, as nearly one-third (31%) of respondents plan to complete their back-to-school shopping after the start of the school year, a 5 percentage point increase from 2014.

The number of consumers who plan to reuse last year’s items has risen from 26% to 39% between 2011 and 2015. However, there may be some good news for retailers: consumers are no longer exclusively driven by discounts. Over that five-year period, coupon clipping decreased 14 percentage points and intentions to buy more lower-priced items fell 11 percentage points.

“Consumers are sending a message to retailers that says the back-to-school shopping season just isn’t that important anymore – and that could dramatically disrupt an industry that traditionally relies on this defined period for a significant portion of annual sales,” said Alison Paul, Deloitte LLP vice chairman and retail and distribution sector leader. “If consumers are content with the items they already have, the two-for-one promotion may no longer get them to the register. Instead, retailers will have to provide something more meaningful or exclusive that fits their customers’ needs when they are ready to buy.”

Also, with smartphones in-hand to tackle their homework on what to buy, the Deloitte surveys show those shoppers may linger on the beach a little longer this summer.

Eight in 10 (80%) smartphone owners in Deloitte’s Back-to-School survey plan to use their devices in the back-to-school shopping process, a 6 percentage point increase over last year. Furthermore, among respondents, smartphone device ownership has more than doubled after climbing from 40% in 2011 to nearly 90% in 2015.

Of all the devices consumers own, they plan to use their smartphones most frequently for back-to-school shopping, ahead of their laptops, PCs and tablets. They also appear more inclined to use their phones to find information than click the “buy” button: while more than 4 in 10 consumers surveyed will access a retailer’s website (44%) or product information (42%), just 29% plan to use their phones to make a purchase. Although mobile payment apps and digital wallets are nascent technologies, already 7% plan to use them for back-to-school shopping this year.

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