For anyone raising children, the last few weeks of summer are typically peppered with shopping trips for back-to-school supplies. It's a key season for retailers, typically second only to holiday shopping in December.
This year is proving to be no exception. Despite concerns about the volatile economy, a recent study by Deloitte found that nearly nine out of 10 consumers plan to maintain or increase their back-to-school spending. More specifically:
86 percent of the households surveyed expect to spend the same or more on back-to-school items this year.
Even so, consumers said they will be vigilant about the cost of the items they plan to purchase. Three out of 10 (29 percent) consumers believe prices on new back-to-school merchandise are higher than a year ago, and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said low prices are the most important retailer attribute for back-to-school shopping.
More than half (55 percent) of those polled reported that they will buy only what the family needs, and more than one-quarter (26 percent) will reuse last year's items due to concerns about the economy or their finances. Nearly three out of 10 (28 percent) will consolidate trips to save on gas.
Which inflation-related concerns could derail consumer spending this season? Seven out of 10 respondents cited higher food prices (72 percent) and higher energy prices (70 percent), followed by roughly half (51 percent) who pointed to the lack of improvement in the job market.
"Retailers need to be prepared for a consumer who is sensitive to prices, especially with the pinch households are feeling from higher gas and energy costs this summer," said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and Deloitte's retail & distribution sector leader. "Retailers should monitor customers' reactions closely to recognize where they are flexible, and where promotions are necessary to drive traffic and generate purchases of higher margin products in the store."
Deloitte also probed evolving consumer buying behaviors. The survey found that shoppers increasingly rely on mobile devices and social networks for brand information, discounts, etc. For example:
Among survey participants who own web-enabled pones, early two-thirds (64 percent) plan to use them for back-to-school shopping purposes, while three out of five (61 percent) will use them to get price information. More than two out of five (43 percent) will download discounts, coupons or sale information to their smartphones.
More than one-third (35 percent) of parents polled said they plan to use social networking sites to assist in their back-to-school shopping, up from 29 percent last year. Among these respondents, nearly seven out of 10 (69 percent) plan to do so to find out about promotions. Additionally, 44 percent plan to visit social networking sites to browse products and 28 percent to read reviews and recommendations.