Back-to-School Shoppers Use Mobile and Social for Bargains

It’s the time of year when parents are beginning to look forward to the first day of school—and preparing with the necessary back-to-school shopping. For retailers, back-to-school is not only a timely business opportunity, it’s an important bellwether of holiday spending prospects, too.

2011 back-to-school spending is holding steady from the previous year. According to the National Retail Federation, combined spending for kindergarten through college will be $68.8 billion this year, a figure second only to end-of-year holiday sales.

Shoppers are not splurging—basic school supplies are the No. 1 category purchased across the board—but a majority are planning to spend close to or more than last year, according to several sources:

  • Deloitte: 86% are spending the same or more.
  • School Family Media: 86% are spending the same or more.
  • Accenture: 84% are spending same or more.
  • NPD Group: 78% are spending the same or more.

Buying in-store is favored over the web. The leading channel among those surveyed by the NRF was discount stores (68.4%), followed by department stores (57%). This was echoed more strongly by Deloitte’s findings that 92% planned to shop at discount stores, the highest rate in three years. Discount stores were also tops with those surveyed by Accenture (89%).

But while online shopping may not have replaced traditional avenues, it serves a complementary role. Half of parents surveyed by Accenture and 46% in the Marketing to Moms Coalition study intended to buy at least some back-to-school items online.

The internet is viewed as a valuable source for saving money. The leading reason why shoppers in the Accenture survey planned to shop online was because they expected to find better discounts (70%), were able to research prices and products (63%) and avoid potential out-of-stock items in-store (40%).


In the NRF survey, respondents were asked about how the economy was changing their behavior. Thirty percent planned to do more comparison shopping online and 12.3% planned to shop more online in general. Over 36% were likely to use more coupons. PriceGrabber found even more parents (69%) said they would shop online and use comparison sites to save money, up 200% from 2010. Additionally, 41% planned to use coupons from retailers’ websites, a 43% increase from last year. According to Deloitte, a quarter of parents intended to do more online research compared to last year.


An increase in the use of social media and smartphones to aid the back-to-school shopping process is one of the biggest changes from years past. Sixty-four percent of smartphone users surveyed by Deloitte, the only research firm that posed the question, planned to use them as part of the shopping process, primarily to get price information (61%) and to download coupons or sale information (43%). Thirty-five percent intended to use social media, up from 29% last year. Learning about promotions (69%) and browsing products (44%) were the top two uses.

Even though social media and mobile are not always top of mind for parents, retailers are attempting to engage shoppers through these means. Macy’s just debuted a back-to-school cause marketing campaign employing QR codes and Facebook “likes” to solicit $1 donations to, a group that encourages youth volunteership. And Target has been running a “1,000 Likes” promotion where each day the first 1,000 users to click the “like” button are sent a mobile coupon for a rotating selection of school supplies.


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