July 31, 2012, 4:53 PM

Consumers plan more web research before buying school supplies

And a fifth of them will buy those items from online retailers, Deloitte finds.

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A fifth of online consumers plan to conduct more web research this year than in 2011 before buying back-to-school items, according to a survey released today by Deloitte LLP. The consulting, auditing and financial services firm says that rate is nearly identical to the 21% of survey respondents who said the same thing in 2011.

Deloitte based its findings on an online survey conducted between July 5-12 of 1,314 parents of children in kindergarten through the 12th grade. Overall, 20% of survey respondents plan to shop online this year compared with 19% who said the same in 2011. That beats the rates for warehouse membership clubs (19%), thrift shops (11%) and supermarkets (11%), but trails the rates for such retail options as discount stores (91%), office supply and technology stores (45%), and traditional department stores (31%).

But the web will influence even those offline purchases, the survey results suggest. A third of the parents who responded plan to visit e-commerce sites, retail blogs and other web locations to learn about back-to-school items before buying. And 17% of those parents said their children will visit social media sites to learn more about school supplies, with a further 16% visiting e-commerce sites and retailer blogs. By comparison, television was cited by 41% of parents, followed by family members (37%), newspapers (37%) and friends (36%).

“As children contribute more to the back-to-school budget and shoppers act on input from friends and family, retailers need to consider the multiplier effect of each consumer interaction,” says Alison Paul, Deloitte vice chairman and retail and distribution sector leader. “That should signal retailers to focus on making a customer’s experience with product availability, assortment and service consistent across all digital and store channels.”

Deloitte also found that 65% of respondents who own smartphones, or 37% of all respondents, will use their smartphones for back-to-school shopping. Deloitte says 57% of those surveyed owned smartphones, compared with 40% last year. For those smartphone owners using the devices as shopping tools, seeking price information (63%), getting coupons and other discounts (45%), viewing retailers’ ads (44%) and finding store locations (38%) were the most popular mobile shopping activities for the 2012 back-to-school season.

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