More shoppers go online to seek back-to-school salesBefore Jackie Best and her daughters headed to Woodfield mall in Schaumburg, Ill., to shop for back-to-school clothes, they did the kind of homework typical of most post-recession families. They researched prices online.
By: Sandra M. Jones, Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Before Jackie Best and her daughters headed to Woodfield mall in Schaumburg, Ill., to shop for back-to-school clothes, they did the kind of homework typical of most post-recession families. They researched prices online.
Katie Best, 15, looked for cardigans and skinny jeans at Urban Outfitters' Web site, and Maggie Best, 12, searched for purses and generally anything at Abercrombie.
"In this technology age now, we get e-mails every day with something on sale from someone," Jackie Best said earlier this month. "If we can order it online with a coupon code, we do. Or we see if we can find it on sale. I don't think you have to pay full price for anything these days if you're savvy."
Not long ago, comparing prices online was a time-consuming task relegated to big purchases such as a dishwasher, a laptop or big-screen TV. But as parents get ready to send children back to school and concerns about another recession linger, a big chunk of back-to-school shopping is moving out of the malls and onto the Internet.
Nearly half of consumers say they are likely to shop online to get ready to go back to school, according to a survey conducted by NPD Group exclusively for the Chicago Tribune. And 20 percent of consumers plan to do more back-to-school shopping online this year than in 2009.
The two biggest motivations to shop online: finding the best price (cited by 69 percent of respondents) and saving time (cited by 55 percent), according to the survey.
Clothing, once among the most difficult categories to sell on the Internet, has moved to the top of the shopping list with one out of three survey respondents, or 33 percent, saying they plan to shop for back-to-school clothing online.
Not surprisingly, girls aged 13 to 17 accounted for the biggest block of online shoppers, with 67 percent saying they plan to shop online for back-to-school items and 42 percent saying they plan do more shopping online than they did last year at this time.
"Online is now part and parcel of retail as a whole," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD.
The rush to grab shoppers outside of the mall has accelerated this year as high unemployment and a slow economic recovery leave Americans reluctant to spend. With too many stores and not enough shoppers, retailers are stuck in a battle for market share this back-to-school shopping season, the second-biggest sales period of the year, after the holidays.
"Retailers are trying to make it as easy as possible for consumers to spend money," said John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates. "At the end of the day, it's not so much about retailers coercing shoppers into the stores as it is retailers want to make sure shoppers know how many places they can access their products."
The shift in shopping patterns has prompted retailers to reach out to consumers wherever they may be — at their work computers, on Facebook or Twitter and on their cell phones.
Kmart blasted daily text messages for one week with back-to-school promotions. J.C. Penney introduced iPhone apps for combining back-to-school outfits and recruited teens to make their own "haul" videos. The short videos, which are posted to online sites including YouTube, depict teens showing off their J.C. Penney purchases.
Meanwhile, American Eagle gave away smart phones for two weeks in July to customers who tried on a pair of jeans _ no purchase was required. And T.J. Maxx is holding a back-to-campus sweepstakes contest on Facebook.
"Online is becoming more important every year, especially for the teen and tweens," said John Goodman, executive vice president of apparel and home at Sears Holdings Corp. "They are getting a lot of their information online before they go into a store."
In fact, 29 percent of Americans are relying on social networks and 29 percent are relying on mobile phones to shop this back-to-school season, up from 10 percent on social networks and 6 percent on mobile phones last year, according to Deloitte LLP, a Chicago-based financial services firm.
"Retailers realize they have to extend their reach to interact with consumers beyond the store," said Seema Pajula, a partner in the retail practice at Deloitte. "It's a smarter and busier shopper, so the retailers need to be more focused."