Back-to-school season has long been a critical sales event for retailers, but 2017 may go down as a year that defies the trends as shoppers play a waiting game for sales.
Kids started back to school this month, but as of early August just 45% of shoppers have checked everything of their list, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. It’s the lowest number since 2012.
However, 2012 was a record year for back-to-school spending as shoppers indulged in pent-up demand following the spending lull of the Great Recession. In all consumers shelled out a whopping $83.8 billion, according to NRF that year and are projected to spend $83.6 billion in 2017, up more than 10% from 2016.
And 2017 is off to a slow and worrying start. Many began early, according to NRF, researching needed items, perusing online class lists and comparing prices. But traffic has slowed in August and it’s anybody’s guess if it will pick back up.
What are shoppers waiting for? Discounts, suggests Prosper Insights & Analytics (and fellow Forbes contributor) Pam Goodfellow. This trend follows that of the winter holiday season, where consumer play a game of chicken with retailers, waiting and watching prices drop as the deadline gets closer.
In this regard, back-to-school 2017 could be a preview for the holiday season to come. Already, early reports indicate retailers could have a banner winter holiday season, particularly when it comes to e-commerce, where sales are projected to rise some 16.6%, according to eMarketer.
“People are confidently spending more and really spreading out their shopping throughout the season,” Katherine Cullen, director of retail and consumer research at NRF, told Retail Dive in an interview. The association still expects spending to be higher in aggregate this year than last, but with so many waiting, back-to-school is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
By Laura Heller for Forbes.com