August 7, 2012, 10:29 AM

Shoppers get online for back-to-school shopping

Consumers increasingly prefer the web for buying school supplies, a survey says.

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Consumers will spend on average 12% more this year on back-to-school products, but they plan to increase spending on school supplies in only one retail channel—the web, according to a July study from Brand Keys, a brand and customer loyalty research and consulting firm. “Online is the only channel seeing an increase—and it’s enormous,” says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys.

Brand Keys conducted a telephone survey of 10,000 U.S. households—the firm says it also reached households that use only mobile phones—in the third week of July for kindergarten-through-12th-grade back-to-school spending. Among other questions, the firm asked respondents to name the retail channels where they like to shop for school-related products, such as backpacks, pencils and apparel. Respondents could name more than one channel. The study found that 54% of respondents prefer to shop online, up from about 40% a year ago.

By comparison, the percentage of back-to-school shoppers who said they like to shop discount stores decreased to 92% from 95%; the percentage who like department stores fell to 50% from 54%; office supply stores, to 45% from 47%; specialty retailers, to 30% from 33%; and catalogs, to 29% from 31%.

And which retailers are most popular for back-to-school this year? The top three in the study were led by e-commerce leader Amazon.com Inc., followed by retail chain Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and web-only shoe and apparel retailer Zappos.com, a unit of Amazon. Amazon is No. 1 and Wal-Mart is No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500.

The study notes that strong online demand for back-to-school products cuts across all related product categories including classroom supplies, backpacks and clothes, with the exception of books and study aids. Although books and study aids are often bought online by college students, the college market wasn’t covered in the Brand Keys study, Passikoff says.

The study notes that the 12% year-to-year increase in spending on K-12 back-to-school this year will produce an average spend per household of $675, up from $603 a year ago. The study didn’t break out the online portion of those spending figures.

A related study conducted by BIGinsight for the National Retail Federation, a  retail trade organization, said the average spend per household on K-12 back-to-school this year will increase 14% year over year to $689, as total back-to-school spending rises to $30.3 billion. Including retail spending for college students, back-to-school spending increases to $83.8 billion, the NRF study says.

The NRF study, which was based on a poll of 8,509 consumers in early July, also found increases this year in back-to-school online shopping activity: 35% of back-to-school shoppers will use the Internet to compare products and prices of multiple retailers, up from 31% a year ago; and 21% of consumers say they will shop online more often this year, up from 19% who said that last year.

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