Back-to-school shoppers appear to have taken procrastination about as far as it can go.
A survey conducted by The NPD Group in June found that a majority of back-to-school shoppers looking for apparel had not only pushed their scheduled completion dates to the limit, with 55 percent expected to wrap up their shopping in August, but an only slightly smaller majority – 54 percent — doesn’t plan to start the b-t-s ritual until the same month.
And, as if retailers weren’t having enough trouble getting shoppers into the stores before classes begin, NPD found that 4 percent won’t conclude their buying until November.
Year after year, shoppers have been delaying the start of b-t-s searches longer and longer as they wait for better deals from stores late in the season, discriminate more about what they or their family members actually need as opposed to what they want, take advantage of fast or even same-day delivery online or simply wait to see what the other kids are wearing for their fall classes.
The NPD figures show that 9 percent of shoppers plan to start their b-t-s shopping in June, as opposed to 1 percent who expect to finish it that month, with a hefty increase into July, when 31 percent planned to start shopping and 12 percent expected to finish. After the August rush, 6 percent planned to start their shopping in September, when schools not yet open generally greet students back after Labor Day, and 19 percent looked to finish their shopping.
NPD noted that August, generally considered the conclusion of the back-to-school season, had six times the planned number of seasonal shopping starts over June.
While September stood as the second most popular month for completion, its 19 percent rate was slightly more than one-third that of August.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD, suggested that in some ways, b-t-s shopping has become more discretionary than in the past.
“Consumers are more focused on shopping when they need something than ever before,” he said. “When so many consumers are planning on doing their back-to-school shopping in months not traditionally considered part of the season by retailers, it’s time to break traditions and change the way we market and measure these shopping seasons.”
Using data not specifically geared to individual months, the National Retail Federation, in its 2015 b-t-s survey, said the percentage of those planning to begin shopping at least two months before schools open was 19.6 percent, down from 22.5 percent in 2014, and the group planning on starting that process three weeks to a month prior to the start of classes fell to 42.8 percent from 44.5 percent. Those starting to shop a week or two before classes begin grew to 30.3 percent from 25.4 percent.