NPD: Consumers Shopping Earlier For Back-To-School Needs

While August remains the busiest month of the year for back-to-school shopping, a growing number of consumers are hitting the stores earlier for their school needs, according to a recent study by The NPD Group.

While two-thirds of consumers surveyed by NPD said they plan to start their back-to-school shopping the same time as last year, 28% said they planned to start earlier. More than 30% of consumers told NPD that they started their 2016 back-to-school shopping in August, and more than a third said they completed it that same month.

Although August claimed the largest share of the 2016 back-to-school shopping period, 58% of consumers started their shopping before August and nearly a third completed their shopping before August. There are also those who deferred their shopping. A third of back-to-school 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.”

Almost 60% of consumers indicated that they only buy back-to-school items on sale/discount but, 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 the sale dates.

When consumers do begin shopping for the 2017-2018 school year, the majority said they plan to spend about the same or more on most categories. 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.

In addition, more than a third of consumers plan to spend more on personal care and grooming products this year, but 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.

“Despite the lack of passion for fashion among young people, these categories are important to back-to-school shoppers which spells opportunity that can expand beyond apparel and into the fashion of dorm decor,” added Cohen. “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.”