Deloitte Survey

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Deloitte Survey: Students and parents agree on the basics, but not the budget, for back-to-college shopping

Almost three in four students to use smartphones in the shopping experience; students remain budget conscious throughout college years.

NEW YORK, July 27, 2016—Retailers that provide back-to-college offers have a leg up in this year’s shopping season, according to the “2016 Back-to-College Survey” of parents and students by Deloitte.

College students take on more financial responsibility for school shopping

This year could prove to be a robust shopping season, with parents expecting to spend on average $1,345 for school necessities compared to college students, who plan to spend an average of $1,082. However, parents and students don’t quite see eye-to-eye on shopping budget contributions. While 57 percent of students say they will contribute over half of the back-to-school funds, only 16 percent of parents expect their students to do so.

Though college supplies and clothes and shoes remain the top-selling categories for both groups, students predict they are more likely to spend on technology products. Of those surveyed, only 44 percent of parents plan to spend on technology compared to 55 percent of students. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of parents and half of students are buying fewer traditional college supplies in light of more digital technologies in the classroom.

“College-aged students are taking on more financial responsibility and have a larger say in purchasing decisions during back-to-school shopping. Surprisingly, they’re even willing to contribute more to the budget than parents expect,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and Retail and Distribution practice leader. “The survey also revealed that shoppers who plan to spend early in the season also expect to spend more money than those who wait until later. It’s vital for retailers to recognize that this customer base is segmented between students and parents and they will need to be strategic in their timing and offering of promotional information.”

Shoppers check out in brick-and-mortars but heavily rely on digital to assist purchasing decisions

Bookstores and college stores are the top destinations for most back-to-college shopping categories for both parents (63 percent) and students (71 percent), according to the survey. However, students expect to purchase the majority of their college supplies and tech products online (64 percent), while stores are still No.1 across all categories that parents shop. Although more transactions are taking place in brick-and-mortar stores, 82 percent of students and 74 percent of parents will conduct research online before purchasing products in-store, solidifying digital’s influence in the purchasing cycle.

College students are well-researched and thrifty shoppers

The majority of college students (71 percent) plan to use their smartphones during the shopping journey, primarily to make well-informed purchasing decisions with a frugal mindset. More than eight in 10 students (83 percent) plan to buy used books for the school year. Nearly the same amount, 79 percent, plan to purchase items from online retailers who offer free shipping during the back-to-college shopping season compared to 72 percent of parents.

“As expected, nearly half, or 45 percent, of the students surveyed plan to use social media to assist in shopping,” said Sides. “What’s interesting is that students are looking more for information rather than inspiration and brand interaction. They’re searching for the best deals, discounts, and reviews. This means retailers need to make sure their messaging is conveniently available and considers the right product with the right price.”

About the study
The surveys were commissioned by Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company from June 22–27, 2016. The study involved two surveys, which polled a sample of 750 parents with college-going children and 1,200 college-going students, and has a margin of error for the entire sample of plus or minus three percentage points.

About Deloitte’s Retail and Distribution practice
Deloitte is a leading presence in the retail and distribution industry, providing audit, consulting, risk management, financial advisory, and tax services to more than 75 percent of the Fortune 500 retailers. With more than 2,400 professionals, Deloitte’s retail and distribution practice provides insights, services, and approaches designed to assist retailers across all major sub-sectors including apparel, grocery, food and drug, wholesale and distribution and online. For more information about Deloitte’s retail and distribution sector, please visit or follow us @DeloitteCB.

Media contact:

Courtney Flaherty
Public Relations
+1 203 905 2708

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