2016 Back-to-School Consumer Pulse

June 28, 2016
By Marketing

This summer, parents across the board will be spending more and shopping earlier for back-to-school purchases, according to new data from Rubicon Project’s second annual Back-to-School Consumer Pulse Survey. The survey explored the purchasing intent and shopping habits of parents of children in grades K-12 and parents with children entering their freshmen year of college.

Overall, millions of parents – more than a third of all parents (34 percent) and nearly half of college freshman parents in particular (49 percent) – have already started back-to-school shopping. Sixty-one percent of all parents plan to spend more than they did last year, spending approximately $917 per child on average. Freshmen parents plan to spend more than $1,300 per child, twice what the average K-12 parent plans to spend.

This year, parents plan to spend the bulk of their increased back-to-school budget on tech-related items. For the first time ever, most parents plan to skip brick and mortar outlets for their tech purchases, picking Amazon as their go-to retailer for tech. This year, adoption of online and mobile shopping has reached a high water mark, with 60 percent of all parents surveyed planning to use mobile devices for some back to school shopping – 30 percent plan to do at least a quarter of their total shopping on mobile devices.

Rubicon Project Back to School Survey Tech

Parents Spending Most Back-to-School Budget on Tech Purchases

While school supplies and apparel remain top priorities in this year’s survey, the biggest budget item for both K-12 ($343) and college freshmen parents was technology ($470). For K-12 parents, apparel ($233) was the second largest spend, while dorm supplies ($324) were the second biggest expenditure for parents of college freshmen.

When it comes to how they will shop, more than half of parents surveyed plan to shop for technology and telecommunications online, while apparel, school supplies, and food and beverage remain primarily brick-and-mortar shopping purchases.

This year, Amazon claimed the top spot as parents’ #1 retailer for technology as parents increasingly turn to the online retailer for major purchases such as laptops, tablets and other devices. Wal-Mart remained the top retailer for apparel (66 percent) and school supplies (77 percent). For K-12 parents, Amazon has moved ahead of Staples as the third most popular destination for school supplies compared with last year (in 2015 Staples accounted for 39 percent, Amazon 38 percent).

Rubicon Project Back to School Mobile

Think Mobile and Online if You Want to Influence Parents

According to this year’s findings, nearly one third (30 percent) of parents surveyed will do at least 25 percent of their back-to-school shopping on a mobile device with parents of college freshmen (42 percent) significantly outpacing K-12 parents (25 percent). Dads outpace moms in mobile purchasing as 41 percent of dads said they will do at least a quarter of their online shopping on a mobile device, compared to just 24 percent of moms.

Retailer mobile applications are becoming increasingly popular as almost half of parents surveyed (47 percent) have the Amazon mobile application and 40 percent of college-bound freshmen parents utilize at least three shopping apps. Seventy-one percent of parents plan to use retailer apps before they make a purchase. Sixty-six percent use mobile apps to compare prices while 64 percent use them to find out about sales.

Parents are also becoming increasingly comfortable with in-app purchases with more than a third of all parents allowing their children to make in-app purchases.

Rubicon Project Back to School College Parents

College Brings Financial Change and Re-evaluation for Many Families

Parents of incoming freshmen will feel the financial strain this summer as they plan to spend on average $1,378 on their child’s back-to-school shopping. This number almost doubles the $684 K-12 parents will spend.

In re-evaluating tech purchases, parents intend to spend on average $470 on technology compared to $324 on the dorm room. Thirty-nine percent will reevaluate their family mobile plan (compared to 24 percent of K-12 parents), nearly half plan to purchase or lease a car for their children and nearly a quarter (24 percent) are activating a new mobile plan for their child.
A majority of parents will also be helping their child financially with tuition. 60 percent of parents surveyed said they will help their child pay for college and 29 percent have college savings accounts set up 
for their children. Only slightly more than half (56 percent) say they have saved as much as they wanted to help their child pay for college.

In further signs of shifting generational attitudes, Millennial parents are already planning to have their children boomerang back to them after college. 61 percent think their child will move home, 90 percent are comfortable with it, and most (57 percent) wouldn’t charge them rent.

Other Significant Survey Findings

  • Dad’s Love for Tech: Dad is getting more involved in K-12 back-to-school shopping, especially when it comes to technology, but mom remains the lead shopper across most categories.
  • Tablets Filling Up the Shopping Cart: Tablets continue to increase in popularity with tablet purchase intent up overall from 2015 and about half (51 percent) of K-8 parents who are shopping for tech are shopping for tablets.
  • In Battle of PC vs. Mac, PC Dominates: PCs (72 percent) continue to dominate planned computer purchases for parents of both K-12 and college freshmen. For mobile devices, Android (52 percent) outpaced iPhone (42 percent) on mobile purchases.
  • Streaming Gaining Steam: K-12 parents are 9 percent more likely to watch video through a streaming service or other channels/websites daily than they were in 2015 (30% in 2015 vs 39% in 2016). 68 percent of parents have Netflix and over 2 in 5 stream daily.
  • Dad is More Impulsive: Dads are also more likely to click and purchase based on what they see online: 51 percent of dads have clicked on a mobile ad; 35 percent have purchased based on a mobile ad; 56 percent have clicked on an online ad; and 38 percent have purchased based on an online ad within the past week.

Survey Methodology

Rubicon Project engaged global polling firm Penn Schoen Berland to conduct 1,506 interviews (MOE ±2.53 percent) among parents including 1,000 interviews among parents of kids entering grades K-12 (MOE ±3.1 percent) and 506 interviews among parents of students entering their freshmen year of college (MOE ±4.36 percent). The interviews were conducted from June 3rd to June 8th, 2016.

Click here for an infographic highlighting the purchasing intent and shopping habits of parents with college-bound freshmen.

Thank you for your submission. Please  check your email for a copy of our Back to School survey results.

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