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Parents Plan Record Back-to-School Spending This Summer

July 6, 2015

Rubicon Project “Consumer Pulse” Survey Finds More than Half of Parents Plan to Spend More Than Last Year and Nearly a Quarter of K-12 Parents Have Already Begun Shopping

Los Angeles – July 7, 2015 Although summer vacations seem to have just begun, parents already have back to school shopping on their minds, the new Consumer Pulse survey from Rubicon Project (NYSE: RUBI), a leader in the automation of advertising, has found. The survey explored the purchasing intent and behavior of parents with students in grades K-12 and in college.

More than half of the parents surveyed (56 percent) said they plan to spend more money per child than they did last year to prepare the students for the upcoming school year. K-12 parents plan to spend on average $873 per student, while parents who also have college students are planning to spend more than $1,100 per student. Parents have also started their back-to-school shopping early. Nearly one-quarter of K-12 parents (23 percent) have already begun and will continue to spread their purchases throughout the summer.

As signs of the improving economy and the growing student use of technology in the classroom, the Rubicon Project survey found that nearly two in five parents (38 percent) intend to purchase technology products such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones specifically to meet students’ in-class needs and requirements. Mobile phone plans are also commonly re-evaluated during the back-to-school shopping season. More than one third of parents with college students (35 percent) and nearly one quarter of K-12 parents (24 percent) said they plan to shop for a new mobile plan this summer.

On average, elementary and secondary school parents expect to spend nearly $400 on technology products, compared to $278 on apparel.

“Back to school is big business and Americans will spend billions of dollars getting their children ready for school in the fall,” said Chris Sukornyk, Head of Buyer Cloud at Rubicon Project. “Parents are spending earlier, spending more and going online in ever greater numbers to research products and to make purchases. Agencies and brands hoping to shape back-to-school shopping plans need to begin reaching out now with customized and engaging advertising that targets both parents and students with the right messages at the right time.”

Parents Choose Where and When to Shop, But Kids Influence What They Buy

Four out of five parents surveyed (83 percent) claim to decide where to go back-to-school shopping. Across all product categories, moms overwhelmingly lead these outings, even among college students. While 75 percent of parents say their college student has a paying job either during the summer or the school year, a whopping 72 percent of their parents expect to foot the bill for all or most of their college student’s back-to-school items.

However, across all age groups, moms don’t shop alone. Their children come along most of the time (73 percent) and heavily influence what their parent’s purchase, especially when it comes to clothes, food and school supplies.

Discounts and Deals Drive Back-to-School Purchases

Saving money and finding great deals still lie at the heart of back-to-school shopping for many parents. Nearly two-thirds of parents surveyed (61 percent) said store sales and promotions are the top determinant of when they conduct their back-to-school shopping.

Nearly three in four parents (74 percent) said they prefer to shop at a big box retailer or large chain store if it meant getting a better deal.

Digital Media Consumption Changes How and Where to Reach Back to School Shoppers

While the majority of parents continue to purchase most of their back-to-school items in-store, online shopping and even mobile shopping are becoming increasingly popular alternatives.

“One of the important trends our survey identified for advertisers is that back to school shopping decisions are increasingly influenced online rather than on TV,” said Mari Kim Novak, Chief Marketing Officer of Rubicon Project. “Brands with a narrow focus on television advertising are missing a big opportunity to reach consumers online and on their mobile devices, where they are spending more of their time.”

Nearly half of all parents surveyed (47 percent) indicated they now spend more time online than in front of the television. More than half of all parents (51 percent) watch multiple online videos through other channels/websites every week, while nearly one-third of all parents (29 percent) watch streaming video (e.g. Netflix) and online video (e.g. YouTube) every day.

This change in media consumption has affected how and when parents research products, respond to promotions and make their purchases. For instance, half of parents with college students clicked on an online ad in the past seven days (50 percent) and nearly half of them (48 percent) also clicked on a mobile ad. About two in five parents of college students reported making a purchase within the past week based on a mobile ad (41 percent) or an online ad (42 percent) they saw.

“The concept of ‘prime time’ is a thing of the past,” Novak said. “Parents are now researching products and shopping from the moment they wake up until they power down and go to sleep at night.”

Half of parents surveyed (50 percent) said they typically spend the most time shopping or researching products online during the regular business hours of 9am – 5pm. Two in five parents (39 percent) reserve their shopping until evening hours from 5pm-midnight, while 11 percent are night owls or early birds who shop online from midnight-9am.

Survey Methodology

Rubicon Project engaged global polling firm Penn Schoen Berland to conduct 1000 online interviews (MOE ±3.1%) among parents of children in grades K-12 and in college in the US between June 12 and 15, 2015.


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