Back-to-School Shopping Survey Finds In-Store Purchases Will Outpace Online

Less than two percent of back-to-school shoppers will shop exclusively online

A 2019 US Back-to-School Shopping Trends survey of more than 1,100 consumers (parents and college students) revealed that an overwhelming majority of respondents will be doing their back-to-school shopping in store this year, with less than 2 percent of respondents stating that they plan to do all their back-to-school shopping online. The survey was sponsored by Sensormatic Solutions.

An overwhelming majority of survey respondents will be back-to-school shopping primarily in brick-and-mortar stores across all product categories, including:

  • School supplies: 86%
  • Clothing/apparel: 82%
  • Shoes: 81%
  • Classroom supplies: 76%
  • Backpacks: 61%
  • Electronics: 47%
  • Sporting equipment: 41%
  • Dorm/apartment furniture: 32%
Nick Pompa

“Consumers still want to shop in store, especially for back-to-school,” said Nick Pompa, vice president and general manager of ShopperTrak, Sensormatic Solutions. “When shopping for young children, parents and students want to experience products first-hand before making a purchase. Although e-commerce continues to grow in popularity, back-to-school shopping still primarily takes place in physical stores with most consumers (62%) planning to shop at two or three stores this year.”

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The State of the US Economy Doesn’t Disrupt Back-to-School
The survey also found that back-to-school means back-to-spending for most US consumers this year. Nearly 58 percent have a flexible spending budget, while 27 percent don’t have a budget at all and plan to buy what’s necessary for the upcoming school year. Half of respondents (51%) anticipate spending the most money on clothing/apparel (51%), followed by school supplies like pencils and notebooks (19%).

Interestingly, the state of the US economy and trade is expected to have little to no impact on back-to-school spending habits this year. Half of respondents (51%) said it will not impact their shopping budget this year. When asked the same question, 12% stated they plan to spend more this year compared to last year.

“Having flexible and/or no budgets for back-to-school shopping presents an opportunity for retailers to upsell their customers in stores. To capitalize on this, retailers can provide a great shopper experience through engaged sale associates, quick and efficient operations, and available merchandise,” said Pompa. “In today’s hyper-connected world, these experiences are increasingly driving customer loyalty more than just reliable products and services.”

Pompa added, “By looking at historical traffic data, retailers can identify ‘power hours’ when there’s the greatest opportunity for sales conversion, and ensure they have the right associates on the sales floor to optimize customer engagement. This is especially important as back-to-school shopping season continues to be an in-store tradition where customers want to ‘try before they buy’ and consult expert sales staff. It also helps retailers identify some of the quieter periods of traffic—a perfect time to make sure that shelves and displays are neat and well-stocked.”

Back-to-School Stress
Students aren’t the only ones dreading the end of summer. Thirty-one percent of respondents claimed that back-to-school shopping is usually extremely or very stressful.

Respondents’ top issues for their back-to-school retail experience concerned inventory. Over 33 percent of respondents said their biggest complaint was out-of-stock items. Unorganized store presentation with inventory in disarray was the second largest grievance (18%). Additionally, respondents shopping for elementary school (37%), middle school (37%) and high school (35%) were more likely to complain about items being out of stock compared to those shopping for college (25%).

“Today’s shoppers want to buy products where and when they want,” said Pompa. “Retailers can meet customers’ demands by implementing solutions for accurate, real-time inventory visibility. Not only are these technologies, like RFID, essential for a successful shopper journey, but they also create operational efficiency and are a huge sales driver. They also allow retailers to deliver on unified commerce fulfilment initiatives, such as buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS), buy online, return in store (BORIS), curbside pickup, and more.”

Survey Methodology
Sensormatic Solutions collected responses from 1,163 US-based consumers, 18 years and older, via a third-party provider to determine the findings of its 2019 US Back-to-School Shopping Trends survey. All the respondents plan to shop for back-to-school in 2019 with 39.8 percent shopping for elementary school, 27.9 percent shopping for middle school, 34.8 percent shopping for high school, 33.7 percent shopping for college and 4.3 percent of respondents were teachers themselves.

Click here to learn more about how Sensormatic Solutions portfolio of loss prevention, inventory intelligence, and traffic insights solutions can help retailers improve the back-to-school shopping experience.

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