The back-to-school craze is about to begin, kicking off a long season of shopping that lasts through the holidays. As predicted in Back To School: Your Lesson Plan For A Successful 2016, retailers are launching back-to-school campaigns earlier this year – even though customers aren’t buying earlier. Instead, customers are taking the time to do some homework. According to Alliance Data’s recent back-to-school survey, 36% of customers began their back-to-school browsing in July, but 42% won’t actually make purchases until August. And, of the 18 states participating in tax-free holidays, 12 will take place during the first weekend in August. That’s become a key weekend for retailers to focus on, thanks to the highly anticipated spike of in-store traffic. With so many tax-free savings also available online, retailers will want to be sure their in-store and online experiences are seamless and consistent.
 
HOW THEY BUY
Our survey also found that most customers will purchase some clothing before school starts, but they’ll really replace and replenish school wardrobes around the holidays. This is especially true among those shopping for college; parents of college-aged students are least likely to buy all of their school apparel in one trip. Why? Older students are more heavily involved in their parents’ back-to-school purchases and are fans of fast fashion – what’s trendy in August may not be “in” come fall. Plus, there are many areas of focus when shopping for a college student (such as bedding, toiletries, furniture, etc.), so it’s hard to do it all at once. To connect with this audience, retailers can pulse their marketing throughout the fall, and target those college-bound students (even though parents are likely footing the bill).
 
This year, most customers plan to spend about the same, if not more, than they did in 2015. They anticipate spending between $101 and $300 per child, but most aren’t shopping with a specific budget in mind. By not having a pre-determined budget, the opportunity for more spontaneous purchases increases.
 
HOW THEY PAY
We also learned that customers are narrowing in on their preferred tender type. More plan on using their general purpose credit cards to pay for back-to-school purchases this year, and less plan to use cash, checks, or store rewards. Plus, nearly 30% plan to download mobile coupons, which offer quick and easy redemption. If there’s one lesson we learn every year, it’s this: Customers are always seeking a positive and convenient shopping experience, and they won’t forget the brands that provide it. A simple and rewarding experience will influence where customers shop long after class is back in session.

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