Survey: Back-to-school shopping seeing green

Consumers expected to spend same or more this year, cite higher prices

Costco's website did better than its walk-in stores on all counts except product quality (for which the two types tied) and earned top marks for layout, product value, and checkout.
Costco's website did better than its walk-in stores on all counts except product quality (for which the two types tied) and earned top marks for layout, product value, and checkout. (iStock)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Maybe parents are just excited to get their kids out of the house. Or maybe they don't see any options. Nearly 88 percent of consumers surveyed say they will spend the same or more on back-to-school shopping this year, according to a survey released today by Deloitte, a retail auditing and consulting firm.

Deloitte's annual "Back-To-School" survey polled 1,134 parents of school-age children in grades K – 12, between July 5 and 12, 2012.

According to the survey, consumer sentiment is based more on reality, not emotion. The reality for most back-to-school shoppers is higher prices; 58 percent of consumers who say they they'll spend more this season cite rising retail costs. That may explain why two-thirds of respondents say they'll shop for items on sale.

Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, says many consumers feel that retailers aren't offering more value for their money.

"Retailers will likely have to give consumers a good reason to fill the baskets in their stores, such as promotions that incentivize volume purchases or return trips," Paul says. "Retailers may need to quickly analyze their customer data and traffic to identify, replenish and market the popular items that can keep the momentum up throughout the season."

Deloitte's survey also indicates what form of media most influences consumer choices. Traditional media remains strong. Television ranks as the No.1 source for parents to hear about the items they intend to purchase, cited by 41 percent of respondents, while 37 percent said newspapers are their No. 1 source.

Decisions-made digitally on devices like smartphones will also be a leading factor in back-to-school shopping. The survey shows that smartphones and online channels will guide bargain-hungry shoppers. More than 4 in 10 (43 percent) smartphone owners indicate they use their devices at least half the time for back-to-school shopping. Nearly half (45 percent) of those smartphone shoppers will download discounts, coupons and sale information. Among those who plan to visit social media sites during the back-to-school shopping season, 70 percent will seek promotions and nearly half (49 percent) will browse products.

But don't dismiss friends and family. Old-fashioned word-of-mouth still weighs heavily on shopping decisions; 37 percent of respondents say family members will influence their purchasing, while 36 percent say they'll follow the advice of friends.

"As children contribute more to the back-to-school budget and shoppers act on input from friends and family, retailers need to consider the multiplier effect of each consumer interaction," says Paul. "That should signal retailers to focus on making a customer's experience with product availability, assortment and service consistent across all digital and store channels."

Paul says that strategy includes clear signage about mobile applications visible to the teenager in the store. So parents, beware, you may want to get them out of the house, and you might be willing to spend a little more this year, but bringing your digitally enabled child to the malls might be the biggest challenge of this back-to-school season.