PhotoEven though they began shopping for back-to-school and college items earlier than ever this year, families with school and college-aged students said that as of August 7 they have more than half of their shopping lists to complete. 

According to National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2012 Back-to-School and College Surveys conducted by BIGinsight, the average person with children in grades K-12 has completed 40.1 percent of her shopping, while college shoppers and their families have completed slightly more at 45.3 percent. Overall, school and college shoppers this year are expected to spend a total of $83.8 billion. 

Last minute shopping 

It’s evident that there are plenty ‘last minute shoppers’ this year and for retailers these next two weeks are of utmost importance when it comes to attracting families who still have apparel, electronics and school supplies to stock up on,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Given how much of an impact the economy is having on consumers’ buying decisions, retailers will remain competitive up through the final sale after Labor Day, rolling out web, in-store and even mobile promotions to entice children and their parents.” 

The survey found that more college students and their families have already finished their shopping (16.4%), than school shoppers (7.8%). Additionally, there are fewer school and college shoppers who say they have not started their shopping yet (28.5% vs. 31.1% of college shoppers last year, and 26.9% vs. 28.3% of K-12 shoppers last year.) 

When it comes to how families will pay for their school and college merchandise, the survey found debit/check cards are the preferred payment method for shoppers this summer. Four in 10 (42.5%) with children in grades K-12 will use their debit cards most often, similar to the 39.4 percent of college students and their families. More than one-quarter (28.4%) of those shopping for school items prefer to use cash and another 25.6 percent prefer credit cards. College shoppers are more likely to use their credit cards (29.4%) over cash (26.7%). 

Economy a factor 

With eight in 10 shoppers saying the economy will affect their school and college spending plans, it’s no surprise promotions and coupons are popular with families this summer. According to the survey, of those who have already begun shopping, two in five (38.5%) with children in grades K-12 say at least half of the school-related purchases they made were influenced by coupons, sales and promotions, down slightly from 41.5 percent last year. The same number of college shoppers (38.6%) said at least half of their purchases were influenced by sales and promotions, up from 34.2 percent last year. 

To wrap up their shopping lists, school and college shoppers will continue to look for bargains as they comparison shop in stores and online. Back-to-school shoppers will do the remainder of their shopping at discount stores (59.6%), department stores (54.4%), clothing stores (42.9%), electronics stores (13.7%), and online (27.2%). College students and their families will head to discount (47.6%), department (41.1%) and clothing stores (30.1%). More than one-third (34.6%) of college shoppers will do the remainder of their shopping online. 

Smart shoppers are utilizing every channel they can to find the best back-to-school deals, which this year includes comparison shopping through traditional and non-traditional outlets like catalogs and drug stores,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “With so many shoppers relying on debit cards and cash this year, it’s clear that parents are determined to send students back to class on budget.” 

Smartphones, tablets play big role 

Nearly seven in 10 tablet owners will utilize their tablets to shop for school and college items, and more than half of those who own smartphones will shop in some way via their mobile device for both school and college merchandise. Specifically, 68.9 percent of college students and their parents and 67.0 percent of school shoppers will use their tablets; 58.7 percent of smartphone owners looking for school merchandise will use their mobile device, compared to 51.6 percent of back-to-college shoppers. 

Mobile continues to drive the conversation in the retail industry, and when it comes to back-to-school, retailers have spent months preparing their mobile promotions in anticipation of one of the biggest mobile shopping seasons we’ve seen yet,” said Shay. 

Of those who own tablets, most (43.8%) will use their tablet to research products and compare prices, Four in 10 (40.6%) college students and their families will use their tablet to research products and compare prices. 

The survey also found that nearly three in 10 (28.4%) shoppers with children in grades K-12 will make an actual purchase with their tablet; slightly more (34.5%) will commit to purchasing college items via their device. Adults 25-34 are among the most likely to utilize tablets for back-to-class purchases. Four in 10 (42.8%) 25-34-year-olds who own a tablet will make a back-to-school purchase using their device, while nearly half (46.7%) who own a tablet in that same age group will purchase college merchandise via their tablet. 

When it comes to smartphone usage, most back-to-school (33.3%) and college (31.5%) shoppers will use their smartphones to research products and compare prices, while fewer school (19.2%) and college (20.9%) shoppers will commit to buying something on their handheld device. 

These numbers rise among 25-34-year-olds, with the majority of smartphone owners in this age group using their devices to research products and compare prices for back-to-school (54.2%) or college (50.1%). 

There’s no question that mobile technologies have changed the game for shoppers, especially when it comes to bigger shopping trips that require higher budgets,” said Goodfellow. “Savvy shoppers are learning how to seek out coupons, sign up for text alerts from their favorite companies to receive instant rebates, and even download applications that enhance the shopping experience.” 

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