Sensormatic Solutions U.S. Back‑to‑School Survey: What to Expect in 2023
By Brian Field, global leader of retail consulting and analytics at Sensormatic Solutions
In many regions within the U.S., schools have been let out for summer and kids are enjoying the freedom these months offer them. However, parents already have the upcoming school year on their minds—and its retailers’ jobs to figure out what they’re thinking and prepare accordingly. Luckily, the Sensormatic Solutions annual Back-to-School Consumer Sentiment Survey uncovered several trends that we can expect and prepare for this year.
As back-to-school shopping ramps up, here’s what shoppers are thinking about and what retailers will want to know as they plan their own strategies…
- In-store, online, and everything in between
More shoppers plan to head into stores this year (79%) than did last year or in 2021 (76% for both). Furthermore, shoppers using buy online, pick up in store will likely bolster sales since 61% say they make additional purchases when picking up their online orders. As in 2022, nearly half (45%) of shoppers heading into stores said they are most likely to visit standalone locations or those in strip malls, while open-air centers (20%), enclosed malls (19%), and outlets (13%) were significantly less popular.
- Timing, timing, timing
Following nearly the same trends as the last two years, 80% of shoppers will start their back-to-school purchasing in July or August. Our data shows that the busiest days will fall between July 30 and August 26, based on region. That said, shoppers have little preference for specific days of the week, with answers spread almost evenly between weekdays (35%), weekends (32%), and both (33%).
- Budgeting and spending
Economic anxiety and inflation have been top concerns for shoppers over the past two years, but that worry appears to be waning—at least somewhat. Last year, less than half of shoppers (43%) said they planned to spend the same or more on school supplies year-over-year. This year, that number jumped to 51%. That said, the importance of getting a good deal has grown in the eyes of many shoppers. Nearly all (91%) respondents cited price as the most important factor in their choice to head into physical retail locations, and 30% said in-store promotions would be an important factor in their choices (almost doubling the number that shared this sentiment in 2021 [16%]).
- The effects of increased security
Loss prevention has been a major focus for retailers lately and shoppers are taking notice, saying the inconveniences that can come with additional security measures may impact their choices. Half of consumers (50%) said they noticed locked items during a recent shopping experience, and 51% said that they would be unlikely to seek assistance to get the item from the case. Instead, they would look for an alternative that is more easily accessible (27%), forgo the purchase due to frustration (17%), or look for a different store that has the item more easily accessible (7%). Overall, 20% said they would be somewhat or very unlikely to follow through upon finding an item behind a lock and key.
- Clothes over calculators
Shoppers’ focus on clothing will continue this year, with 70% of respondents sharing that they are likely to spend more on attire and accessories than any other category. As in 2021 and 2022, shoes (58%) and supplies (53%) rounded out the top line items in shoppers’ budgets.
- Speed and service
BOPIS remains a popular option among consumers, with 34% planning to use the alternative fulfillment service for back-to-school shopping this year. However, they did express some experience-related frustrations with current programs. Major contributors to a poor buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) experience included waiting in pickup lines (37%), stores not having an item ready for pickup when they arrive (25%) and poor customer service when they pick up their purchase (22%). With this in mind, retailers may want to spend the coming weeks refining their BOPIS programs using inventory intelligence and other analytics tools to ensure they’re prepared for the back-to-school rush.
Making the most of the moment
In today’s retail landscape, succeeding is about making the most of what you have—and digital analytics tools can help. While the above information can help inform retailers’ strategies, precise, tailored experiences come from precise, tailored insights. Thankfully, getting those insights is easier than you may think.
Sensormatic Solutions flexible, AI-driven Sensormatic IQ platform and advanced hardware, tags, and more can help retailers turn their back-to-school operations into loss prevention, shopper experience, and inventory intelligence strategies that work for any business. These tools can highlight how, why, and when customers shop and help retailers make the most of back-to-school this year and in the years to come.
About Brian Field
Brian Field oversees the Global Retail Consulting Practice as senior director at Sensormatic Solutions. He provides retailers with insights that drive revenue while controlling the bottom line. Prior to joining Sensormatic Solutions, Brian spent the better part of four decades working directly in retail. His experience includes strategic planning and analysis, direction of store finance and store operations, store systems integration and project management, store sales and management, training design and merchandising. Brian’s retail sector experience includes Specialty Apparel, Consumer Electronics and Housewares for companies as diverse as Chico’s FAS, Circuit City, and Macy’s.