Back-to-School Drives $50 Billion in Summer Ecommerce Sales - eMarketer

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Back-to-School Drives $50 Billion in Summer Ecommerce Sales

Back-to-school shopping accounted for one-sixth of retail ecommerce sales

September 4, 2014

US consumers spent $50.17 billion online during this year’s back-to-school shopping season, according to the latest figures from eMarketer, representing a 16% gain over the 2013 back-to-school season. This year, ecommerce during the months of July and August—the main months for back-to-school shopping—accounted for approximately one-sixth of retail ecommerce sales for the year, according to our estimates, as well as 70.5% of retail ecommerce sales in Q3 2014.

US Retail Ecommerce Back-to-School Season Sales, 2011-2014

Combined with the holiday shopping season, which in past years has accounted for nearly 25% of the year’s retail ecommerce sales, eMarketer estimates, these two nationwide shopping sprees provide a much needed boost to US retailers, totaling more than 40% of the year’s ecommerce sales during just one-third of the calendar months.

In the core product categories most commonly purchased for back-to-school, including apparel and accessories, books/music/video, computers and consumer electronics, office equipment and supplies, and toy and hobby purchases, eMarketer estimates a 16.5% increase in retail ecommerce sales over last year, up from $23.51 billion in 2013 to $27.38 billion this year.

US Retail Ecommerce Back-to-School Season Sales, by Category, 2011-2014 (billions and % change)

According to eMarketer, which collects data on brick-and-mortar and ecommerce revenues, store productivity and advertising for more than 225 US-based retailers, some of the fastest-growing US-based ecommerce retailers in apparel, electronics, discount retailers and department stores also benefit from back-to-school sales. For example, stores like Wal-Mart and Target that sell products across the board for back-to-school have seen well over 20% growth in ecommerce revenues over the trailing 12 months, while electronics stores like Best Buy and hhgregg, as well as mass-market department stores such as Belk, Macy’s and JCPenney, are also increasing their ecommerce revenues at a healthy clip year over year.

Top 15 Retailers in Core Back-to-School Categories*, by Ecommerce Sales Growth, TTM

In terms of sales per square foot, a key measure of store productivity, the most successful retail companies in these categories on a year-round basis aren’t as heavily reliant on back-to-school promotions, according to eMarketer. In fact, Best Buy is the only company to grace the top 15 in both ecommerce growth and sales per square foot over the trailing 12 months.

Apple is by far the most productive among these core back-to-school product category retailers, selling on average $4,472 worth of merchandise per square foot in the past 12 months—certainly the company’s popular devices are high on the must-have list for many kids hoping to win cool contests. However, lululemon athletica came in second by this metric, with sales per square foot significantly lower (but still significant) at $1,778, while membership warehouses PriceSmart and Costco were the only other two companies in these categories to clear an average of $1,000 in sales per square foot across their portfolios over the past 12 months.

Top 15 Companies in Core Back-to-School Categories*, by Sales per Square Foot, TTM

Certainly, many consumers still enjoy the rush of madly busy shopping seasons like back-to-school and the end-of-year holidays. But retailers that can provide solutions for those who also want more convenient—and less stressful—ways to purchase necessities during these times will have the opportunity to gain market share as even more retail shifts online.

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