Business as Usual

Lexi Nahl

Weeks after the start of classes, back-to-school shopping is beginning to taper off at the University. The back-to-school retail season is typically considered to be the stretch of time between mid-July and mid-Sept. and is the second-largest selling season, behind December, in terms of sales.

The period therefore presents a crucial opportunity for retailers to drive profit margins, and 2016 did not disappoint. 

As the season officially draws to a close, Americans have already spent more than $75 billion on back-to-school shopping, contributing to a 55 percent year-over-year growth in retail spending in the last decade, according to data compiled by the National Retail Federation. 

Though many U.S. families began their shopping in early September, at Villanova, back-to-school shopping started even earlier. Traffic in the University bookstore picked up as early as mid-July, according to Ryan Snyder, the Villanova Bookstore Store Manager.

This means that before syllabi were passed around, University students were overnighting textbooks on Amazon and braving notoriously long lines at the campus bookstore. 

Clothing and electronics sales comprised the largest amount of U.S. consumer spending for the season and, with apparel spending up eight percent overall this year, it is not surprising that apparel was a more valuable piece of the puzzle than ever for retailers.

One NRF Survey by Prosper Insights showed that apparel and electronic spending comprised about 65 percent of total spending.

According to the same survey, the majority of back-to-school shoppers spent their money at discount stores. This means that companies like K-mart, whose profit is linked heavily to apparel, stood to gain the most this season. 

Despite a predicted bump in apparel spending nation-wide, consumer priorities seem to shift on the University’s campus. 

Students purchased a more modest amount of apparel this season according to an anonymous survey of 130 students conducted by The Villanovan.

Only about 25 percent of students reported that apparel spending comprises the majority of all back to school spending. 

Students expect to spend the majority of money this season on textbooks, according to the same survey.

“Textbooks are so expensive,” Mimi DeVita ’17 said. “Honestly, if my parents didn’t help to pay for my textbooks I probably wouldn’t buy them, which is really frustrating as a nurse, because I actually need my textbooks.” 

DeVita is not the only person navigating the onerous financial burden of textbook spending. About half of University students surveyed report spending more money during the back-to-school season than they spend during the holiday season.

Though an overwhelming majority of students surveyed reported purchasing textbooks on websites like Chegg or Amazon, about 10 percent of students still prefer getting books in the bookstore. 

Still, bookstore manager Ryan Snyder sees the benefits of shopping in-store, and did not see any slow-down in in-store sales this season. 

“We actually do better in store…We’re on campus and if there’s any issue we’re able to take care of it in person,” Synder said. “The customer service piece we offer is really something that Chegg can’t do.”

Synder might be on to something.

One NRF survey predicted that 90 percent of school supplies would be bought in actual brick-and-mortar stores this season. However, a more recent update showed that only about in 40 percent of purchases were made online this year. 

The University bookstore seems to buck this trend. According to Synder, online traffic for the bookstore is up 36 percent this season, but the majority of revenue still comes from in-store sales in both textbooks and apparel. 

“Textbook and apparel sales are par-for-par,” Synder said. “We have thousands of alumni who are shopping in store and online, and they’re always looking for that Villanova brand…with apparel, people want what is not always readily available…they want something better than what they can get at Dick’s.”

It is also worth noting that U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart actually charge higher prices online than they do in stores. According to Bloomberg Intelligence Analyst Poonam Goyle, many U.S. retailers actually charge higher prices online than they do on their website.

Braving the line in an actual store could therefore help the majority of students who reported shopping discount stores and brands this time of year. 

The Villanova bookstore is again an exception to this trend, according to Synder, who explained that bookstore prices are the same across the board.

Regardless, if The Villanovan’s student survey is any true reflection of University shopping tendencies, the University Bookstore may need to consider some price adjustments to stay competitive in future seasons, especially if students express continued interest in online services and discount shopping during the back-to-school season.