Inflation is affecting the back-to-school season in ways both expected and unusual. Parents are buying cheaper versions of their usual items (35%), buying less of some items (32%) and forgoing some items altogether (19%), according to data from TransUnion. Economic pressure also is affecting how consumers pay for the more expensive items they do purchase, with buy now, pay later (BNPL) becoming a major component.
“BNPL came into the market years ago mostly focused around these higher price points,” said Mark Rose, Senior Director of Marketing Solutions at TransUnion in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Everyone always thinks of [BNPL for] buying the Peloton. Now we’re seeing a big expansion of it, not only across merchants but also into less expensive or more ordinary type purchases. In terms of back to school, we’re seeing BNPL being used for things like books or apparel.”
In fact, 62% of shoppers who used BNPL did so for those less expensive items — outpacing the 52% using it for single big-ticket items like computers. Millennials are the demographic driving this usage, with 47% of this generation using BNPL for their back-to-school shopping.
The ability to defer payment for multiple small purchases (that can become very expensive in aggregate) is what’s driving BNPL growth for lower-price purchases, according to Rose. Spreading out payments over the course of multiple weeks or even months makes it easier to budget and handle the expense, and BNPL provides a method for delaying payments without incurring interest.
This trend also could carry into the holiday season. “I think that’s a natural progression to make,” said Rose. “If they’re able to make those payments, and it works well for them financially, there’s no reason to see why they wouldn’t continue using it for the holiday season coming up, which of course is another high spend season.”
Convenience Remains a Sales Driver During Back-to-School and Beyond
Inflation drove a lot of the back-to-school season’s shopping trends, but convenience nevertheless remained high on busy parents’ minds. This led to a spike in tap-to-pay usage — nearly 60% of shoppers have used a technology like Apple Pay or Google Pay at checkout during shopping trips.
“If you think back to earlier on in the pandemic, which seems like a long time ago but it wasn’t, tap-to-pay initially had a lot of attraction because it had less transmission of germs. I think what we found is that it’s actually just a nice enhancement to the consumer experience; either it’s the satisfaction of a ‘ding’ or just being able to check right out and not having to pull a card from your wallet.”
However, tap-to-pay still has a pair of perceived downsides that are discouraging some potential adopters. More than half (55%) of those who don’t use tap-to-pay said it’s because they don’t see how it is more convenient than using a debit or credit card, while 25% don’t trust it to be secure. Better education on how tap-to-pay is easy and safe could help drive further adoption.
Another convenience driver both during back-to-school and beyond is curbside pickup, which is used by 60% of shoppers. Of those, 40% use it often or always. The most common reason for curbside was avoiding crowds, at 78% of respondents, but another major reason, at just shy of 50%, was to make it easier to make purchases with children in the car.
“I think when you look at the main users of curbside experience, which are millennials, it’s about avoiding the lines and not having to run errands with young kids, which can be tough,” said Rose. “Curbside pickup works really well for that. When you look at Gen Z or the younger demographic, they really like curbside pickup as well for different reasons. It comes down more to ‘I may be an ecommerce native but I want my package faster, and I don’t want to worry about it being taken from in front of my apartment building or at my house.’”
The convenience factor will be important not just during the final stretch of this back-to-school season but for years to come. Millennial families are young, with many years of back-to-school shopping to come, and Rose believes that their current behaviors are creating a blueprint that retailers can use to build loyalty into the future.
“Parents with young children when they’re shopping like how curbside pickup makes the experience easier for them,” said Rose. “That 60% really resonated with me as a parent. Retailers promoting that option, and maybe using some interesting creative to tell that use case story, would be fun to look at going forward.”