Back-to-School Gives Retailers a Sneak Peek Into 2017 Holiday Shopping Season

Emma Stevens

As we speak, millions of children in the U.S. and beyond have headed back to their familiar classrooms, become acquainted with their new teachers, and of course, showed off their new shoes, jeans and backpacks for their fellow classmates. The back-to-school bonanza always comes on like a freight-train starting mid-July and is gone before you can say “straight As.” It is the second-busiest shopping season (after holiday shopping) and, as many in the industry can agree, a good indication of the shopping behavior of consumers heading into the last three-four months of the year.

Parents of school-aged children historically take advantage of special back-to-school sales and promotions during the month of August, but according to the NRF’s annual survey, the numbers are lower compared to previous years. The survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, shows that the average family with children in grades K-12 had only completed 45% of their back-to-school shopping as of early August. This is down from 52% in 2013, and 48% in 2016. Many analysts believe the reasoning behind the delay in advanced back-to-school shopping are simply school requirements.

“Similar to recent years, some of the big-ticket items are being significantly influenced by school requirements,” says Pam Goodfeelo, Prosper Principal Analyst. “That is why we are seeing many parents take their time in tackling their lists so they can take advantage of any special promotions that can help them save on items such as laptops and computers.”

The good news is that, even with these lower numbers, the NRF has forecast that families will spend $83.6 billion on back-to-school this year, including $29.5 billion on K-12 and $54.1 billion on college. Combined with the recent rise in consumer confidence, this year’s holiday shopping season is poised to very merry indeed, according to many industry experts.

The “Ber” Months Are Upon Us: Price and the Customer Experience Should Be a Priority

In retail, there is no rest for the weary. Just as back-to-school shopping winds down, the season of the “ber” months kicks into high gear. And there is good news! According to Morgan Stanley senior retail analyst, Walter Loeb, “strong holiday sales are brewing.” In a recent Forbes column, Loeb says, “Sales in this back-to-school retail season should be better than last year's even though Georgia dropped its tax-free weekends and some other states have cut the length of theirs. Still, the more significant selling period will be the holiday season, and I think it will be quite good in 2017.”

Loeb also believes that the winning retailers this holiday season will be those who stay alert and have a killer instinct. Price and the store experience will be key, especially since the NRF expects shoppers to browse first (and early) before making the commitment to buy – similar to the shopping trends we’ve seen for back-to-school. According to the NRF’s Holiday Planning Playbook, shoppers will be heading to the store for holiday inspiration: 47 percent say they plan to visit stores to gather gift ideas.

For this reason, retailers should continue to work towards blending digital and in-store experiences, as well as paying special attention to dynamic pricing at the shelf edge. This not only helps retail organizations stay ahead of the competition, but provides a store experience that is inspired, fun and full of value for shoppers.

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