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The Brand Keys 2015 Back-to-School spending report card is in and households with school-age children (pre-school through 12th grade) do not plan to spend more this year on back-to-school supplies than they did last year, indicating an anticipated average spend of $650.00 (versus 2014’s $652).

According to 8,500 households the average anticipated spending in all major back-to-school categories reflect similar spending levels as last year.

Clothing:                                 $270.00

Shoes (athletic & dress)       $120.00

Supplies                                   $ 80.00

Computers/Electronics/                                                                                                                                                   Tablets/Smartphones:         $160.00

Books/Study Aids                 $  22.00

‘Preferred’ retail categories (versus last year’s) indicates an anticipated use of all retail platforms with the biggest increases of where and how to buy in Specialty Apparel Retailers and Department Stores. Catalogs were down again in mentions, although, to be fair some consumer purchases have just shifted from print catalogs to their digital counterparts. Online has, of course, been growing generally, but increased use of mobile outreach and advertising is likely responsible for this year’s growth for that platform specifically.

Discount Stores:           99%   ( — )

Online                             95% (+ 2%)

Specialty Retailers        55% (+21%)

Department Stores:      55% (+20%)

Office Supply:                35% (+ 5%)

Catalogs                          20% (- 10%)

Top 10 Retailers and E-tailers

This year, the top 10 list of most popular retail brands added Walgreen’s and Sears, with Target moving to the #1 spot just ahead of Walmart. It would appear that their return to a ‘cheap chic’ positioning is working well for them. For e-tail brands, moved up the list from 2014’s #10 spot to #3. moved up, moved down, and eBay did not appear in this year’s top-10, with the following rankings:

Retail                                       E-tail

  1. Target                             
  2. Walmart                         
  3. Macy’s                             
  4. CVS/Walgreen’s             
  5. Best Buy                          
  6. TJ Maxx                            
  7. Staples                             
  8. Footlocker                       
  9. Sears                                
  10. Apple stores                    

While consumer confidence indices have been moving in a positive direction this year, it appears that parents are taking a hard look at what their children really need for back-to-school. There’s always a need to re-stock in some areas because there’s no way to get around children’s growth spurts, which accounts for the 21% increase for Specialty Apparel Retailers and Department Stores sales.

Nearly half the respondents indicated they had already bought and stockpiled necessities and supplies for the first day of school before August. That’s up 15% over last year. Another 30% indicated they would wait for the ‘Summer Sales.’ Retailers have spent more than a decade teaching consumers they can get things cheaper or for better value if they wait a little longer or look a little harder, and consumers have been fast learners, so the remaining 20% are apparently waiting until the last minute.

In addition to the low-lower-lowest pricing marketplace, bigger ticket items, like tablets smartphones and computers, which in years past had traditionally been purchased at the start of the school year, are now purchased throughout the year, so parents aren’t upgrading a mobile device just because classes are starting.

Value, of course, isn’t just about pricing (or shouldn’t be), it’s about brand, brand differentiation, and brand engagement. Retail brands that can emotionally engage consumers are seen as surrogates for added-value, and those will be the brands that benefit most.

Consumers not only believe that, they behave that way in the marketplace, a fundamental lesson all back-to-school retailers need to learn.


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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