Back-to-School Shopping Is Changing

We’re all aware of the economic factors affecting back-to-school shopping sales estimates this year. But the way people shop, who is shopping and a redefined back-to-school season may also play a role in the predicted decline of sales.

A recent article on goes beyond the typical look at economic data when assessing the sluggishness of back-to-school sales. The points made in the piece are worth considering because they assess the change in consumer shopping habits and change in school calendars.

Following is a list of the five trends changing back-to-school shopping habits:

  1. More schools are moving to a year-round calendar, so supplies aren’t simply needed one time of the year. In addition, more students now attend summer school which means supplies need to be on hand.
  2. The recession has led to a just-in-time shopping habit — with families budgeting their expenses by spreading out what they spend and when they spend. Rather than buying all of the necessary school supplies at once, families may wait to buy fall and winter clothing, backpacks and shoes when they’re needed — not in August. The article notes that 50 percent of working moms plan on reusing school supplies from last year. And teens are also more likely to shop just-in-time, buying their clothing in fits and starts throughout the year as fashion trends change.
  3. Price sensitive shoppers can shop around. Online shopping allows consumers to compare prices and to buy what they need, when they need it. No longer does a consumer have to visit a brick-and-mortar store to prepare for the school year.
  4. The spend on electronics is decreasing. More families already have tablets and phones, so those sales figures are down. Add to that the fact that the devices don’t need to be replaced and the prices on the devices are decreasing, and it’s clear why electronics sales continue to drop.
  5. Teen unemployment and/or underemployment has affected sales figures. With a nearly 24% unemployment rate, teens have less money to spend. During the recession, more teens have tried to help contribute to the family’s income and the article notes that 35% of teens help pay for their back-to-school supplies.

Does your POS data back up these trends? Are you seeing a general rise in sales of school-related items (supplies, electronics, clothing, backpacks, dorm furniture, etc) throughout the year, rather than just during the back-to-school season? What promotions are most successful for this audience? Do your promotions cannibalize sales? Are your brands being passed over for more price-conscious private label offerings? Is your inventory meeting their needs year-round? Keep the above trends in mind the next time you review your POS data and be open to the fact that while end-of-summer back-to-school sales may be down, you may in fact be selling more of these same supplies at a different time of year.