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Report: Back-to-school shopping grows less predictable


Even back-to-school shopping is not what it once was.

U.S. students may still go back to school around the same general time each year, but the timing of BTS shopping has changed in recent years, becoming less consistent and less predictable. That's according to the Back-to-School report from The NPD Group, which finds that BTS shopping is starting earlier and lasting longer.

While two-thirds of consumers plan to start their back-to-school shopping the same time as last year, 28% said they planned to start earlier, NPD found. Although August claimed the largest share of the 2016 BTS shopping period, 58% of consumers started their shopping before August, and nearly a third completed their shopping before August. And some deferred at least part of there their shopping. A third of 2016 BTS shoppers didn’t finish until September or later, with some making final purchases well into the school year.

"The scope of the back-to-school shopping season has expanded due to the endless shopping opportunities, both in-store and online, enabling consumers to spread their spending out and address needs as they arise,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group. “As a result, the back-to-school shopping season is starting earlier, lasting longer, and expanding beyond the traditional thinking of a single peak retail period. This kind of change is the new constant in retail.”

While almost 60% of consumers indicated that they only buy back-to-school items on sale/discount, timing is also important. When asked about tax-free holidays, more than 40% of consumers make their back-to-school purchases whenever it is most convenient, regardless of these sale dates.

Most shoppers they plan to spend about the same or more on most categories. Some key findings include:

• More than 45% of consumers plan to increase their spending on fashion and school supplies, the top categories for the season.

• Spending plans on electronics are more evenly divided with a third of consumers planning on spending more, and 38% planning on spending less.

• Over a third of consumers plan to spend more on personal care and grooming products this year.

• College-focused categories like bedding, kitchen items and small electrics may be less of a priority, with 45% indicating that they plan to spend less on these products than they did last year.

“The challenge for today’s retailers, both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce, is to bring the excitement of back-to-school shopping back into the equation for all students, from kindergarten through their final year of college," added Cohen.

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