Consumers will research online, but buy in-store
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Consumers will research online, but buy in-store

The back-to-school (BTS) shopping season in the U.S. is already in full swing, with over one-third (37%) of consumers having begun their shopping – up from the 29% who started at this time last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). Roughly 90% of households indicated a selection of brick-and-mortar retail as a shopping venue for the BTS season.

Consumers will shop in a variety of places for their BTS items this year. While discounters are still expected to be the winners, the number of households selecting this shopping venue dropped from 90% last year to 80% this year. For all 2014 BTS shopping venues, discounters represented a 23.7% share of where consumers will shop, according to ICSC.

Many retailers found in regional malls and open-air centers, such as office supply stores, traditional department stores, electronic stores, and apparel specialty stores, should see increased activity during the BTS season. The biggest mover was apparel specialty stores which leaped from an 8.4% share in 2013 to a 10% share this year.

The share of online as a BTS shopping venue will be 8.1% this year – a drop from last year’s 8.6%. Catalogues will comprise a 3% share. This means that brick-and-mortar retail, in total, will comprise almost a 90% share of BTS shopping, says ICSC. Furthering the trend of "webrooming," – 73% of consumers indicated that they will do research online, and then purchase in a physical store.

"After a tough winter with adverse weather in much of the country, retailers have been enjoying a strong start to summer as pent-up demand has propelled sales,” said Jesse Tron, spokesman for ICSC (www/ "This momentum will continue into the BTS selling season as well, with the vast majority of consumers indicating a strong propensity to shop for school related items. While consumers typically view BTS merchandise as an essential expenditure, we are seeing a strong indication that consumers will be spending on more discretionary purchases as well – a good omen for retail as we progress through the BTS season and into the holidays."

Total BTS expenditures per household are expected to be $672 this year. Excluding electronics, expenditures on BTS items will be $325 – up sharply from $285 in 2013. The share of consumers expecting to spend more this year jumped to 50% – a significant increase from last year when 39% expected to increase spending. Additionally, the share that indicated they would significantly increase (over 10%) expenditures rose from 12% last year to 21% in 2014.

For 2014, 20% of consumers indicated that a change in fashion trends is a reason that they will change their spending compared to last year – doubling 2013’s indication. This shows a strong increase in discretionary purchasing, as fashion is not an essential expenditure.

Consumers still expect to complete the bulk of their BTS purchases in August (59%) – however both July (22%) and September (19%) have taken larger shares compared to 2013 (July 17%, August 66%, September 17%). Sales were the number one motivating factor for a consumer to purchase at a specific store location at 61%. The ability to physically see, touch, or try on the merchandise was second at 52%, says ICSC.


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