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Analysis

2018 back-to-college survey

Vying for wallet share

Our sixth-annual survey takes a closer look at parent planned spending during back-to-college shopping. Could online spend take an unexpected turn, putting in-store sales in the lead?

2018 back-to-college trends

This year, $25.5 billion will likely be spent on back-to-college (B2C) shopping. But will parents be making all of the decisions alone? In order to capitalize on this lucrative shopping season, retailers will likely need to understand what’s most important to parents when shopping—and where students have the most input.

Download this year’s back-to-college report to learn more about parents’ planned shopping preferences and which retailers could see the biggest share of the $1,330 average household spend.

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2018 back-to-college survey

What to look for this year

One of the most noteworthy themes from this year’s survey? The emphasis on in-store shopping, where parents plan to spend 54 percent of their total budget (up from 48 percent last year).

Parents may be reaching a digital plateau for back-to-college shopping. They plan to use digital platforms at the same rate (or even less) than last year, and mostly to look up prices and discounts. This could be a signal to retailers that they may need to crack the code on how to better engage their shoppers with digital offerings.

In-store sales lead the way
Despite ongoing hype about eCommerce, parents plan to increase their in-store spend in 2018 to 54 percent (up from 49 percent in 2017). In-store will likely “steal share” from online and undecided spend. Parents plan to spend $13.8 billion in-store compared to only $6.1 billion online, which leaves $5.6 billion up for grabs from shoppers that are still undecided.

Household income has big impact on retail preferences
High-income households plan to spend more across all categories, with the most drastic spend gap in computers and hardware (an average of $783 for high-income households compared to $555 for low-income households).

Low-income households show a preference for price-based formats (such as dollar stores), while high-income households tend to favor more traditional formats like department stores.

This trend is very similar to what we found in our recent report on retail bifurcation, where price-based and premier retailers outperformed their competitors, in part due to the changing consumer economic situation.

Overall parent planned spend is flat compared to last year, but certain categories could see a significant bump in spending, such as dorm/apartment furniture (+17 percent) and electronic gadgets (+14 percent).

While parents plan to pay, students could have a big influence
Back-to-college shopping seems to be a family affair, with 82 percent of parents planning to collaborate with their kids for this seasons purchases. Even though college students will likely be involved in B2C shopping, most parents hold the power of the purse as 80 percent still plan to contribute to more than half of the total household spend during back-to-college shopping.

Family financials will likely play a role in the shopping patterns as well: High-income households are more likely to have parents fund B2C purchases than low-income households, which are more likely to see the student fund B2C spend.

Insider insight: “This decline in digital usage for B2C could be a sign that consumers desire innovation with their digital shopping interactions and an opportunity for retailers to define innovation at the intersection of technology, engagement, and decision making in the coming years,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman and US Retail, Wholesale & Distribution leader.

Insider insight: “The preference for in-store shopping amongst college parents is consistent across the 2018 back-to-school and back-to-college seasons. Where shoppers were once undecided, they’ve now selected to shop in-store instead of online when faced with the choice. Even with in-store shopping gaining prominence, there’s still $5.6 billion of undesignated spend that’s fair game to all retailers," said Rod Sides.

Planned shopping by category and channel

Preferred retail format by income and product category

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​2018 back to-college survey results

This year, $25.5 billion will likely be spent on back-to-college (B2C) shopping. But will parents be making all of the decisions alone? In order to capitalize on this lucrative shopping season, retailers will likely need to understand what’s most important to parents when shopping—and where students have the most input.

Download this year’s back-to-college report to learn more about parents’ planned shopping preferences and which retailers could see the biggest share of the $1,330 average household spend.

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