by Doug Desjardins
With its strong emphasis on apparel, back-to-school shopping is still a brick-and-mortar sales event. But online back-to-school shopping continues to grow thanks to new social-media promotions that offer free shipping and other perks for online shoppers.
According to a survey from the NPD Group, 50 percent of consumers plan to do at least some of their back-to-school shopping online this year, a 20 percent increase from 2009. “Online is now part-and-parcel of retail as a whole,” said Marshall Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) found similar tendencies in its back-to-school consumer survey. The survey found that 30.8 percent of consumers plan to shop online for back-to-school this year, a big jump from 22.2 percent in 2009.
“Many of today’s shoppers are smarter than any other generation before them, especially when it comes to finding the best price,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategic initiatives for BIG Research, which conducted the NRF survey. “The affordability of online shopping gives parents an extra edge for the sometimes expensive back-to-school shopping season with price comparison options, free shipping offers and even coupons.”
Girls aged 13 to 17 are expected to be the most prolific online shoppers this year. According to the NPD Group, 67 percent of teen girls surveyed said they plan to shop online for back-to-school items and 42 percent expect to buy more products online than last year.
In addition to being active consumers, teen girls are providing retailers with free advertising through a new phenomenon known as “haul videos.” The videos posted on Youtube feature people – primarily teen girls - showing off the items they bought on their most recent shopping venture.
“Haul videos are blogs-meet-videos-meet-consumer ratings,” said Kirthi Kalyanma, a professor at Santa Clara University who studies retailing. “In product categories like cosmetics, where look and feel are important and are not that easily communicated by text, video blogs can be powerful.”
In a trend that began in late 2008, retailers continue to promote their sales and promotions on social media sites like Facebook and are using cell-phone messages to promote sales. Kmart is using text messages to update its back-to-school sales specials and J.C. Penney is targeting iPhone users with short videos that feature customers showing off their back-to-school purchases in a nod to the haul video trend.
“Retailers are trying to make it as easy as possible for consumers to spend their money,” said John Long, a retail analyst for Kurt Salmon & Associates.
Retailers are helping to make it more affordable with exclusive online offers and free shipping on some items. Continuing a promotion it started last year, Wal-Mart is offering free shipping on school uniforms and on some dorm-room items. And J.C. Penney is providing free shipping for all orders that total $99 or more.
If you prefer to shop online (as I do) you won't want to miss our Back-to-School Coupons page!