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Deloitte Survey: Back-to-School Shoppers Teach New Lessons

Half of back-to-school shoppers concerned about data security in-store; Online moves up to No.2 shopping destination

NEW YORK, July 30, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Traditionally one of the most anticipated trips of the year for parents and children alike, back-to-school shopping may no longer be the experience it once was among U.S households, according to Deloitte's Back-to-School and Back-to-College surveys, released today.

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Parents and their children in grades K-12 will spend a combined $543 on back-to-school items, and double that, at $1,223, on college spending.  Parents alone expect to spend 13 percent less than last year according to both surveys.  Those with students in college expect their child's contributions to remain relatively steady at $436 as compared with 2013, whereas students in grades K-12 are expected to contribute a smaller amount, $173, to the family budget.

"While the uneven economic recovery is still impacting consumers' spending intentions, it may not be the factor it was in recent years," said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and Retail & Distribution practice leader.  "There appear to be other forces at play that are diminishing the significance of back-to-school as a limited-time-only shopping event. Schools, for example, frequently furnish supply lists, and pencils and notebooks are becoming more discretionary as many students rely on digital screens to complete homework assignments; additionally, 24/7 online convenience allows parents – and students – to shop any time, not just during the traditional mid- to late-summer back-to-school period.  Consumers are more  precise about what they buy, and may no longer feel the need to stock up as they did in the days before the Internet."

More than two-thirds of respondents (68 percent) shopping for children in grades K-12 indicate their back-to-school purchases will be driven by the school's recommended product list, rather than their child's requests.  Additionally, they may be delaying some of their purchases until after school begins, as more than one-quarter (26 percent) of parents expect to complete their shopping after the start of the school year.

In terms of where consumers plan to shop, "online sites" moved up to the No.2 shopping destination, tied with "office supply/technology stores," and behind "discount/value department stores" for the first time in the survey's history.  The number of shoppers who prefer to purchase from retailers offering the option to buy online and pick up in the store increased to 40 percent from 33 percent last year.  Nearly six in 10 (57 percent) say they plan to conduct research online before buying in the physical store.

"Rather than thinking solely in terms of e-commerce, retailers need to consider how consumers' digital interactions — not exclusively purchases — influence what they do and don't buy in the brick-and-mortar store," continued Paul. "Retailers should look at their online and mobile channels as a greater opportunity to drive traffic and revenue at the physical store, rather than viewing it as merely a point of purchase, where it actually tends to deliver lower sales than the physical store as a whole."

In addition to these elements shaping back-to-school shopping, consumers still have the economy in mind.  Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents believe the economy is recovering, but continue to exercise some caution.  While high food prices once again top their list of economic concerns that could impact their spending plans, other worries dipped this year, including energy prices (down 5 percentage points), medical costs (down 10 percentage points) and taxes (down 12 percentage points).  

Data security, privacy concerns persist
Personal data protection adds another layer of complexity to winning over the consumer.  Nearly six in 10 (55 percent) of respondents in the Back-to-School survey say they are more concerned about the protection of their personal data when shopping online than one year ago.  Those worries extend to the physical store, where more than half (51 percent) of respondents said they are concerned about the protection of their personal data.  However, 44 percent acknowledged that they are more likely to shop at a retailer who provides education surrounding the security of their personal data.

"Given recent high-profile data breaches, consumers are keenly aware of potential threats," continued Paul.  "Retailers should consider risk management as a fundamental part of their brand reputation and long-term growth.  Securing the transactional environment is no longer a standalone component, and retailers need to be vigilant to detect abnormal activity, and also be ready and resilient enough to regain control should incidents occur."

A new social scene emerges
While nearly one in five (18 percent) parents of children in grades K-12 plan to visit social media sites, on par with last year, the percentage more than doubles in college households.  Two in five, or 44 percent, of respondents said they or their children plan to use social media sites to assist in their back-to-college shopping.   

However, this year reveals a shift in the value that households with college-bound students place on social sources, with declining emphasis on simply looking for deals.  While the number of shoppers checking social media channels for promotions dipped 12 percentage points to 55 percent compared with 2013, the number who plan to visit retailers' pages (46 percent) jumped 12 percentage points, and those posting comments and reviews (37 percent) climbed 13 percentage points from 2013.

Among the electronics that college students own, the survey revealed that smartphone ownership overtook personal computer (desktop and laptop) ownership in 2014.  Nine in 10 (89 percent) college students own smart phones, compared with 84 percent who own a desktop or laptop.  Additionally, the percentage of college students who own tablets has grown to 32 percent from 18 percent last year.

For more information about Deloitte's Back-to-School and Back-to-College surveys and findings, please visit: www.deloitte.com/us/2014Back2School, or follow @DeloitteCB, #Back2School_D.

About the Surveys
The surveys were commissioned by Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company between July 5 and July 10, 2014.  The Back-to-School survey polled a sample of 1,063 parents of school-aged children and has a margin of error for the entire sample of plus or minus three percentage points. The Back-to-College survey polled a sample of 453 parents of college children and has a margin of error for the entire sample of plus or minus five percentage points.

About Deloitte's Retail & 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 1,400 professionals, Deloitte's retail & distribution practice provides insights, services and solutions assisting retailers across all major subsectors including apparel, grocery, food and drug, wholesale and distribution and online. For more information about Deloitte's retail & distribution sector, please visit www.deloitte.com/us/retail-distribution.

As used in this document, "Deloitte" means Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries.  Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

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