Brick and Mortar Stores Top the Class for Back-to-School Shopping

But Webrooming Is the New Retail Real Estate Trend to Watch

Gone are the days when back-to-school shopping was concentrated in one big spree that encompassed everything from Nikes to notebooks. Today we have a season stretching from summer well into September, as value-focused consumers stalk the last of the markdowns. Though vacation is over in many areas, back-to-school (b-t-s) shopping continues with the National Retail Federation projecting total spending to reach $26.5 billion. Where those dollars will be spent is a subject of intense interest to retailers and the retail real estate industry alike. Surveys by Accenture, Brand Keys and Deloitte, all released early this summer, revealed some of the consumer attitudes we are now seeing played out in brick and mortar stores and on retail websites as shoppers gear up for a new school year. Here are the highlights of those studies, as reported by Women’s Wear Daily and Forbes.com.

Shoppers Favor Stores, but Online Influences What They Buy and Where

Accenture’s survey of 500 U.S. parents of students K-through-college found that 89 percent plan to do “most” of their b-t-s shopping in a physical store. However, online plays a big role in their purchase decisions, with 79 percent indicating they will browse online to view products, look for specials, check product availability and do price comparisons among stores prior to heading out to shop. Deloitte’s study of 1,000-plus parents with teens or younger kids yielded similar feedback, with 57 percent of respondents planning to conduct online research prior to actually going shopping. The Deloitte respondents also indicated that their online research would not be limited to retail sites. Eighteen percent of parents with elementary students or high schoolers and 44 percent of those with college-bound kids said they planned to visit social media sites for help in b-t-s shopping and retailer sites to read consumer-generated product reviews and comments.

This online-offline scenario has been dubbed “webrooming.” The Accenture study refers to it as “seamless retailing,” while others see it as a synonym for the familiar retail buzzword “omnichannel.” But whatever it’s called, shoppers going online before going out to a store is a retail real estate trend to watch and respond to.

Dave Richards, managing director of Accenture’s Global Retail Practice, offered this advice in a statement about the rise of seamless retailing.

“Since many will be heading to the stores to shop after browsing online to find the best deals and check product availability, it is imperative for retailers to introduce mobile devices, train associates to solve problems and support sales. They also need to add wireless networks to create interactive experiences, and connect in-store shopping experiences with omni-channel capabilities. Retailers have an opportunity to position their stores as the epicenter for product support which is critical to a brand’s customer loyalty.”

Alison Paul, Deloitte’s vice chairman and its retail and distribution practice leader, suggests that 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.”

Retailers, Paul continues, should look at the opportunity offered by their online and mobile channels 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.”

Beyond Webrooming, A Growing Acceptance of Online Shopping for B-T-S

While stores will still dominate this b-t-s season, a growing number of shoppers seem to be not just webrooming but buying online. The Deloitte survey respondents indicated that online sites were their second favorite b-t-s shopping platform (just behind discount and value department stores), tying with office supply/technology stores for the first time. The study also discovered that the number of b-t-s shoppers who prefer to buy online and then pick up their purchases at a store rose from 33 percent to 40 percent from last year. While a recent b-t-s consumer survey by Brand Keys (8,300 households in nine U.S. Census regions) saw the preference for online b-t-s shopping increase by 30 percent. Home computers seem to be the top choice for doing online buying, according to the Accenture study, with only a third of parents going mobile on smartphones or tablets.

What drives b-t-s purchases online? The Accenture respondents cited special web-only discounts as their chief reason to buy online, followed by convenience. And what makes consumers seek out the in-store experience instead of staying home and clicking a few buttons? As might be expected, it’s the need to physically inspect clothing and accessories before buying—an experience that can’t be matched online. At least not yet.

For more details on the Accenture, Brand Keys and Deloitte studies, including projected spending levels, consumer preferences by store type, purchase categories, and purchase influencers, or for an overview of trends in the b-t-s season from the National Federation of Retailers, follow the links below:

www.wwd.com/retail-news/marketing-consumer-behavior/b-t-s-stores-still-the-preference-over-online-7823535

www.forbes.com/sites/barbarathau/2014/08/12/the-back-to-school-forecasts-are-in-kicking-off-make-or-break-holiday-season-for-retailers/

www.nrf.com/backtoschool

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