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Back-to-School Shopping Season Focuses on Necessities

Paul Ausick

Early August is when most families begin and end their shopping for back-to-school items like pencils, shoes, and other gear. This year about 90% of U.S. families plan to spend at least as much as they spent in 2012 on back-to-school items. Average spending is expected to reach $428 this year.

The data comes from the Deloitte LLC’s annual “Back-to-School” survey published today. Frugality seems still to be the watchword though.

Some 57% of those with children in grades K-12 plan to buy only necessities, up from 52% last year. Families planning to use items them purchases last year rose from 20% last year to 35% this year. The primary reason for spending more is that things cost more, and 68% of parents said they would delay spending for themselves in order to pay for back-to-school items.

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When asked to say where they plan to shop for back-to-school items, 90% of those surveyed indicated they would be going to discount department stores. This would seem to indicate that clothing stores like Ross Stores Inc. (ROST), with more than 1,100 stores, and The TJX Companies Inc. (TJX), with nearly 2,000 T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores, could be likely destinations.

The largest jump in retail destinations came in online sales outlets, where 36% of families said they would be shopping this year, compared with just 20% last year. The Internet is now the third most prominent destination for back-to-school shopping, trailing only discount stores and office supply/technology stores, like Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY), with more than 1,000 U.S. stores, and Staples Inc. (SPLS), with more than 2,200 U.S. stores..

As a source of information about what to purchase, online sites now lead all sources, with 55% of parents saying that they will use websites and blogs to get information about items to buy. That’s up from 33% a year ago. Children still get more than half their information about what to buy from their friends.

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Mobile shopping is also gaining more traction this year: 24% of respondents expect to make a back-to-school purchase from a smartphone. And nearly 80% will use smartphones to help make purchase decisions, with 66% getting pricing information with their smartphones.

Back-to-school shoppers expect to watch their spending closely again this year. Deloitte’s vice chairman summed it up nicely:

Retailers will not only have to make offers very attractive this season, but they will have to score an ‘A+’ on unique, exclusive merchandise and services that nobody else can offer.

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