Survey: Back-to-school shoppers cross channels

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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A vast majority of back-to-school consumers will shop both in-store and online, and almost two-thirds have already started.

According to a new survey of 1,040 U.S. consumers conducted in June 2021 by Rakuten, 89% of respondents will do at least some back-to-school shopping online, and 87% will do at least some online. A leading 36% of respondents intended to start back-to-school shopping in July, and 26% had started in June or earlier. This means 62% of respondents have started their back-to-school shopping as of the end of July.

A 31% majority of remaining respondents plan to start shopping for back-to-school in August, with only 7% waiting until September or later. One-third (34%) intend to spend $250-$500, while 28% will spend less than $250. About one-quarter (23%) will spend $500-$1,000, and 13% will spend $1,000 or more.

Other interesting findings include:

•    63% of respondents are scouting out holiday gifts while they do their back-to-school shopping.
•    Cash back is the leading incentive that would inspire consumers to shop in-store at 23%, followed by access to an exclusive in-store deal (20%) and the availability of buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS - 19%). Roughly 6% said no incentive could draw them to a brick-and-mortar store.
•    Three-quarters of respondents often or always seek out deals.
•    Seventy-four percent of respondents have purchased an item through a link or image in a post by a social media influencer. Instagram (27%) and Facebook (25%) are respondents’ preferred platforms for following their favorite influencers.  
•    One-quarter of respondents rely on online, TV or streaming TV advertising for back-to-school shopping inspiration.
•    Back-to-college shoppers are most likely to wait for deals on electronics before making purchase decisions (25%). Back-to-school shoppers for students in grade school and high school are most likely to wait for deals on clothing (29%). Only 3% of shoppers for grade and high school students don’t wait for any deals –and that number dips below 1% for students in college.
•    Backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils top the back-to-school priority list (27%), followed by clothing (24%). Hygiene and cleanliness items (23%) come in as the third-most important purchasing category in 2021, compared to number one in 2020.

“As consumers start to look past COVID-19, retailers and brands need to recalibrate their marketing to factor in evolution from traditional back-to-school shopping to a new reality of consumer behavior,” said Amit Patel, CEO of Rakuten Americas. “We expect parents to make up for lost time after a year in quarantine, creating optimal conditions for marketers to influence consumers. Our survey shows that the leading ways to do this is through advertising, trusted social media influencers, and discounts and rewards that give consumers confidence they have found a great deal.”