BTS spending up 5%; omnichannel drives in-store purchases



The average family will spend $669.28 on back-to-school supplies this year, up 5 percent from the total spending last season. Retailers are using an omnichannel approach to drive a bulk of this spending to brick-and-mortars, the preferred outlet for shoppers.

Combined spending for BTS and college shopping is expected to reach $74.9 billion in 2014, according to the survey by Prosper Insights and Analytics for the National Retail Foundation.

An up-tick in the economy, along with school districts' growing demands for classroom supply contributions, will contribute to the growth in spending, according to the NRF.

Click for full size image

Good news for the ailing consumer electronics category: A large portion of the spending will be on electronics, $212.35 per household, up 7 percent from last year. Spending on school supplies will increase 12 percent to be an average of $101.18. In addition, clothing and shoe expenses are up just slightly.

The most visited retail stores among BTS shoppers will be department and discount stores, although millennial students will be driving an increase in spending at specialty stores. How does it breakdown? 64.4 percent will visit discount stores; 59.1 percent department stores; 53.8 percent clothing stores; 27.5 percent electronics stores; 42 percent office supply stores; 38.2 percent online and 20.5 percent drug stores.

Knowing that teachers are affected by school district cutbacks—53 percent of teachers received less funding last year than previous years—Walmart announced it would offer educators 10 percent savings on classroom supplies. Teachers who shop at Walmart stores during its Teacher Appreciation Week, July 25 to 31, are eligible to receive a Walmart eGift Card for 10 percent back on nearly 15,000 products.

Steve Bratspies

"On average, teachers around the country spend about $1,000 readying their classrooms, and half of that comes from reaching into their own wallets to make sure students have what they need," said Steve Bratspies, executive VP, general merchandise for Walmart U.S. "We've had a commitment to supporting teachers in the communities we serve for many years. This program is one more way we're helping lessen the cost, increase support and set teachers up for success."

So who will be conducting the BTS shopping? It seems both sexes and generations usually participate in purchasing BTS products—it's a family affair. According to a Baynote survey, 75 percent of consumers will shop together with their student in-store, while 36 percent will shop together online.

"While parents are the primary buyers of back-to-school supplies and apparel, their student's opinions play an important role in the purchase decision," said Lauren Freedman, president, E-Tailing Group. "So it is important for retailers to understand how the entire family—both parents and students—are being influenced, especially as the social and mobile channels continue to gain traction."

In fact, 9.7 percent of parents admitted their child influences 100 percent of what they buy for back to school, up from 7.6 percent of parents last year.

Millennials are playing a large role in marketer spend for BTS 2014. According to the NRF survey, teenagers are planning to spend $913 million of their own money on school items. And looking at NRF's 2014 Back-to-College Survey, results predict the average college student will spend $916.48 on dorm furniture, school supplies, electronics and more, up 10 percent from $836.83 last year. Total college spending is expected to reach $48.4 billion.

If retailers want to drive shoppers into stores—the place where 64 percent will make their ultimate purchase—an omnichannel approach will have the greatest impact. Everything from paper advertisements to mobile will drive shopper purchases.

Marti Tedesco

"In particular, we see college age shoppers (students and families) responding more to social channels," said Marti Tedesco, senior director of corporate marketing, Baynote. "Catalogs, look books and other content including blogs help families and students in the younger age groups to define their shopping lists. How-to guides can also be valuable for both to get up to speed on a category such as how to purchase the right tablet for college." 

As many as 40 percent of in-store shoppers are influenced by paper catalogues and 36 percent by Amazon, reported Baynote. Deals also play a large role in spending habits; therefore, retailers need to take advantage of the big hitters such as email promotions, which influence more than 80 percent of all shoppers.

And while smartphones will only account for about 23 percent of purchases, 34 percent of shoppers will use their phones to do research on BTS items.

"From our survey it was clear that a few strategies are key to getting shoppers into stores," said Tedesco. "The first are the mobile 'must haves'—easy mobile access to product and store details and pricing promotions tailored to store locations that are accessible on mobile devices. Secondly, content marketing is a strong influencer on shopper engagement. From catalogs to suggested listings and product bundles, the back to school shopper is definitely responding to expert content that helps them develop their shopping list."

"Ideally customers love the convenience of being able to check inventory prior to making a store visit and better yet if they can either reserve or complete an in-store pickup," added Freedman.

And finally, when will BTS shoppers be making purchases? For younger students, June is the prime month, for college-aged shoppers, July and August. Spending will peak first on apparel, with electronics and school supply purchases to come later, according to Twitter's vertical marketing manager for retail, Ori Carmel, in an eMarketer interview.

Further research from Baynote predicts some consumers will shop as soon as they can (37 percent), while others are waiting on retailer promotions (26 percent).