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How mobile and digital are impacting back-to-school sales



Deloitte Back to School Infographic 3Even if you don’t have school-age children, you can’t help but get caught up in this time of year! Pencils. Notebooks. 3-Ring binders and paste. Wait. . . do kids still use paste in school? That thick stuff that looks like sticky marshmallow fluff? (Extra points if you remember that brown liquid glue that came with the chisel tip, rubber top.)

I know I’m always singing the “Times Have Changed” blues, but it’s true. Even back-to-school shopping isn’t what it used to be and I have Deloitte to back me up on that.

Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and Retail & Distribution practice leader says;

“. . .pencils and notebooks are becoming more discretionary as many students rely on digital screens to complete homework assignments; additionally, 24/7 online convenience allows parents – and students – to shop any time, not just during the traditional mid- to late-summer back-to-school period. Consumers are more precise about what they buy, and may no longer feel the need to stock up as they did in the days before the Internet.”

Deloitte predicts a decrease in the average family spend; $543 for school-aged children vs $672 in 2013. $1,223 for college-aged students this year vs $1,360 in 2013.

Fascinating. I never thought about the impact tablets would have on paper and pencil sales. I’m sure it’s going to destroy the text book market one day but basic school supplies? I shouldn’t be surprised. Before the computer, I’d go through a dozen notebooks a month, a pack of pens and reams of typewriter paper. Now, I can’t remember the last time I bought a notebook or a pack of pens.

But there’s something wrong here. I’m not very good at math but when I add up the cost of paper and pens for a year vs the cost of a tablet, tablet insurance and apps – parents have to be spending more to send their kids back-to-school. I suppose the main difference is that the tablet isn’t consumable and doesn’t have to be replaced every year. . . but every thee years maybe? Or will a first grader keep his school tablet all the way through elementary school and into high school? Unlikely.

Deloitte Back to School Infographic 1The Positive and Negative Effects of Online Shopping

According to the Deloitte survey, online sites are now the second most popular shopping destination for back-to-school. They tied with office supply / technology store kicking discount stores out of the second place spot.

Those who aren’t buying online still use it for research (57%) and more people expressed an interest in a “buy online and pick up in store” option. I’ve tried that option several times and usually it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Companies who do this need a better way to retrieve the product when the customer arrives to do the pick-up. (My two cents.)

Security Concerns

This one cracks me up. 65% of shoppers said they were concerned about the security of their personal data when shopping on line. Only 51% said they were concerned about security when shopping in a physical store.

But where do most of the breaches happen? In stores! Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels – handing your card over to a waiter at a restaurant – typing in your ATM pin at a gas station mini-mart. And people are worried about online?

Social Studies

Only 1 in 5 parents with children in K-12 plan to use social media networks to plan for back-to-school. At the college level, it’s a different story. 44% said they’ll use social media channels to scope out their options. Fewer said they were looking for deals which is good news for retailers who can’t afford to cut prices anymore than they already have. So what are they looking for? Reviews and comments from other buyers.

Here’s a fun fact: as of this year, more college students own smartphones than desktop or laptop computers. Tablet ownership is way up – 32% vs 18% in 2013.

The takeaway: back-to-school ain’t what it used to be. So instead of filling your shelves with pencils and notebooks, you might be better off selling tablet cases, screen protectors and homework apps for kids.