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Parents Expect to Spend More on Back-to-School, Survey Says

Parents plan to increase spending on back-to-school items this year, according to management consulting firm Accenture.

The firm polled 500 parents of U.S. students, and found that an overwhelming number plan to do most of their back-to-school shopping in a physical store rather than online, though many will still use e-commerce sites to browse for products and to “webroom,” or research products and prices online before visiting a store to make a purchase.

Top items on back-to-school shopping lists this year are: general school supplies; clothing and shoes; accessories like backpacks; and computers, tablets, phones and other electronics.

The top reasons respondents cited for webrooming were to check whether an item is in stock before going to a store to make a purchase, to touch and feel the product before buying, to avoid shipping costs, and to ask the store to match a better price found online.

Dave Richards, managing director of Accenture’s Global Retail practice, said, “The fact that the majority of parents we surveyed plan to participate in webrooming underscores the significance of having a consistent and convenient experience across all retail touchpoints.” He added, “Since many will be heading to the stores to shop after browsing online to find the best deals and check product availability, it is imperative for retailers to introduce mobile devices, train associates to solve problems and support sales. They also need to add wireless networks to create interactive experiences, and connect in-store shopping experiences with omnichannel capabilities. Retailers have an opportunity to position their stores as the epicenter for product support which is critical to a brand’s customer loyalty.”

According to the survey, two-thirds of parents plan to spend between $100 and $500, and over 40 percent plan to spend $500 or more this year. Compared to last year, a little over half of parents said they will spend more on back-to-school shopping than in 2013, with most of the balance planning to spend the same. Roughly 10 percent expect to spend less. One-third of parents surveyed who plan to spend more plan to increase their spending by $250 or more. Among the reasons cited for the increased spending, more than seven out of 10 mentioned higher prices, and more than half said they were buying things their schools required.

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Peer pressure was not a factor in most parents’ planning, but fewer than 20 percent of the parents said they would spend more in order to help their children “keep up with their friends.”

Parents of college students expect their spending increases to be greater than do parents of younger children: 28 percent of parents of college students believe they will spend $500 or more than last year, compared to only 6 percent of parents of K-5 students.

The survey also showed that while parents carry the wallet, their children also wield purchasing power: more than half of parents said their children influence more than half of the back-to-school shopping decisions. At the same time, survey results indicated one-third of children will be spending some of their own money for back-to-school shopping — $266 on average for college students and $128 on average for students in Kindergarten through high school.

“Retailers should start to pay more attention to the purchasing power children have nowadays, if they’re not already,” Richards said. “When making their school shopping decisions, parents are feeling outside pressures and will still be very focused on pricing and promotions. However, children know what they want, and a portion of the increase in spending that we’re seeing can certainly stem from them making just as many decisions for back-to-school shopping as their parents do.”

Discounters and mass merchandisers are the favorite shopping destination by far for back-to-school shopping, with 90 percent of parents planning to shop there, followed by office supply stores (roughly 60 percent) and department stores (50 percent).

Pricing, quality, and a broad selection to get all or most items at one store are the most important factors for parents when choosing a retailer for back-to-school shopping. Offerings like loyalty programs, flexible returns and price-matching ranked much lower on the priority list.

More than half of parents plan to do most of their back-to-school shopping between July 16 and Aug. 15, with over 80 percent planning to be finished with the bulk of their back-to-school shopping by mid-August.

Forty percent of respondents said retailers’ advertisements and commercials influenced their decision-making on when to do their back-to-school shopping. However, they had mixed opinions about the best time to shop for the best deals: 40 percent spread out their shopping throughout the summer and school-year; 35 percent shop early in the season; and 23 percent shop late in the season to get the best discounts.