School's Out—Ready for Back-to-School? - eMarketer

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School's Out—Ready for Back-to-School?

Digital spending for the back-to-school season to increase 16.0% in 2014, 15.8% in Q3

June 23, 2014

eMarketer forecasts that digital sales for the back-to-school season will increase 16.0% in 2014. The growth rate for back-to-school ecommerce is slightly higher than the 15.5% overall ecommerce increase forecast for the full year—and is nearly triple the 5.85% growth in projected retail sales overall in Q3—according to a new eMarketer report, “2014 Back-to-School Preview: Ecommerce Sales to Log Above-Average Gains.”

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

Buoyed by pent-up demand from a weak Q1 and improving consumer confidence, the retail sector should pick up steam in the second half of the year. Price pressures will persist during the back-to-school season, however, as parents continue to look for bargains. The tough competition has already encouraged retailers to launch promotions in June, but the main buying season will remain unchanged in the second half of July and the month of August. Some 96% of shoppers will complete the bulk of their shopping by the end of August.

Although kids and parents haven’t dramatically changed when they buy back-to-school items, how they shop has been transformed by mobile. Mobile-native students are shopping constantly throughout the year, even if they’re not buying.

Time Period When US Internet Users Plan to Research vs. Purchase Back-to-School Items, July 2013 (% of respondents)

Students and parents start to research their back-to-school needs long before stores notice an uptick in purchases. Google conducted a study with Ipsos MediaCT during the 2013 season and found that 23% of respondents began back-to-school research before July 4, with nearly two-thirds (65%) starting by the end of July. In contrast, only 35% said they made a purchase by the end of July.

The Google/Ipsos data highlights the general diffusion of the shopping season for students. As mobile natives with near-universal access to the internet, teens and college students are shopping throughout the school year and are less reliant on parents or friends for rides to the mall to do their shopping.

“The reality is, teens are shopping constantly,” said Stephanie Wissink, co-director of research and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray. “[They are] far more responsive and willing to click something in a mobile environment—far more so than the older generations. ... Shopping is not an event that you do; shopping is something that’s just part of your day.”

Since many students think about shopping and peruse sites year-round, the back-to-school season has become more of a pinnacle of an ongoing activity than a confined season, at least for older students. “Back-to-school corresponds with an old way of thinking about seasonality and shopping,” added Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer of The Intelligence Group.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “2014 Back-to-School Preview: Ecommerce Sales to Log Above-Average Gains.”

This report answers these key questions:

  • How will online spending in this year’s back-to-school season compare with 2013’s season?
  • What factors will influence consumer demand?
  • How is the back-to-school category evolving in a mobile world?
  • How influential are children in back-to-school shopping?

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