Back-to-school shoppers prefer physical retail, ICSC survey shows

Publish Date: July 20, 2017

Physical retailers and shopping centers are capturing the vast majority of back-to-school purchases again this year, according to an ICSC survey of U.S. consumers.

Nearly all back-to-school shoppers (97 percent) are making a purchase from retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence. The majority of shoppers will buy most of the merchandise — across all product categories — in physical stores. For instance, 86 percent of shoppers will purchase school supplies that way, as will 82 percent of them when buying apparel and footwear, 79 percent when picking out backpacks and school bags, and 61 percent when purchasing computers.

Roughly 89 percent of back-to-school shoppers have either gone to a shopping center for their purchases, or they plan to do so, and many spend money in other ways while there. For instance, 60 percent of these visitors will eat, while 28 percent will catch a movie.

Meanwhile, among those ordering online, collecting the merchandise from the store remains as popular as having it shipped to their homes. This offers physical retailers a distinct advantage, because 81 percent of respondents who have shopped that way so far report that they made additional purchases when they went to pick up their stuff.

Discount stores, office-supply retailers and department stores remain the most popular venues for back-to-school shopping, patronized by 69 percent, 37 percent and 32 percent of the shoppers, respectively.

Pure-play retailers, including, are grabbing a smaller slice of the total pie when it comes to back-to-school shoppers: This year 41 percent of the shoppers say they will make at least one purchase from a pure-play online retailer, down from 45 percent during last year’s back-to-school season, and below the 57 percent who did so during the Christmas holiday shopping period.

Among the top reasons respondents gave for using a physical store and/or shopping center for their purchases, 46 percent cited the ability to see, touch or try on the merchandise; 36 percent liked the ability to browse items and the ease of browsing; 35 percent pointed to the convenience of one-stop shopping; 34 percent said they dislike paying for shipping; 32 percent noted that it is easier to return or exchange items; 31 percent want the merchandise immediately rather than having to wait for it to be shipped; and 31 percent said they are attracted by sales on items offered only in the store.

The average back-to-school shopper will spend $353.20 on merchandise this season. Broken down by category, an average of $181.60 will be spent on clothing, shoes, school supplies and backpacks, and $171.70 will go towards electronics. College shoppers will be spending more — an average $437.70 each — than those buying for K-12 back-to-schoolers ($309.60).

August remains the most popular month for back-to-school shoppers — 82 percent said they plan to make purchases then.

This fourth annual back-to-school survey of 1,010 adults was conducted by ORC International on ICSC’s behalf between July 6 and 9.

The full survey results can be accessed here.