Why Retailers Might Be Disappointed This Back-to-School Season

Retailers looking to get a solid boost from the upcoming back-to-school season might be disappointed to learn that spending during this year’s period is expected to remain relatively flat.

According to a new study by Deloitte, total back-to-school spending is expected to hit $27.8 billion, or $519 per student — up only slightly from the $27.6 billion, or $510 per student, anticipated the same time last year.

About 60% of American consumers are predicted to hit the stores four to six weeks before schools open their doors to students. Shopping is expected to peak in late July and early August, accounting for 62% or $17.3 billion of all spending.

As with last year, clothing and accessories will likely account for a majority share (54%) of back-to-school spending, with about 90% of shoppers spending an average of $290 in the category.

“Nearly all shoppers are in the market for school supplies, which tend to be the most price-driven, and clothing, where children have the greatest influence among all categories in the survey,” Deloitte Vice Chairman Rod Sides said. “While big-ticket items have the lowest overall demand, they command the highest average spend.”

Mass merchant stores like Walmart and Target retained their spot as the top destination for back-to-school needs across all product categories. Meanwhile, online-only sites and specialty retailers are expected to see the most growth during the season.

The report comes at a time when retailers are testing new omnichannel concepts in hopes of upending digital competition. Although a large chunk of back-to-school buys (56%) is forecasted to occur in stores, Deloitte added that online purchasing is set to nab 29% of spending — a 23% gain from last year. The increase, Sides explained, reflects the shift to digital among shoppers who previously wavered between online and in-store shopping.

“We continue to see just over half of purchases occurring in the stores, with undecided shoppers gravitating online,” he said. “Retailers who understand this will position a range of in-store and digital offerings to meet consumers where they are.”

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