Consumers favor smartphones for back-to-school shopping fusion September 7, 2020

Consumers favor smartphones for back-to-school shopping

3 min read
  • More than half (59%) of U.S. consumers plan to use their smartphones for back-to-school shopping this year, making mobile devices more popular than personal computers (26%) and tablets (15%), a new study by mobile advertising company AdColony found. Fifty-five percent of people said they purchased something directly on a mobile device after seeing an ad, while 76% would buy something if the ad were relevant.
  • Shoppers are more budget-minded this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the portion of people saying they plan to spend less than $500 growing 10% to 86%. Twelve percent say they will spend between $500 to $999 and just 2% will fork out more than $1,000. The most common products that people say they will buy are school supplies (82%), clothing and accessories (64%), personal protection equipment and sanitation products (57%), electronics (38%) and office furniture for educational use (21%), per the survey.
  • The pandemic is disrupting attendance plans for students, with only 19% planning be at school in-person full time, while 42% say they will have online classes and 39% will have a mix of online and in-person classes, according to AdColony.


The back-to-school shopping season is the second-most important time of year for retailers and often serves as a preview of what to expect during the holidays months later. As AdColony’s survey found, the pandemic is not only affecting how people shop — with a growing emphasis on mobile — but also what they plan to buy for students whose schools offer some form of distance learning. Consumer receptivity to mobile advertising suggests marketers have strategies in place to reach people when they’re most ready to buy.

With many students attending virtual classes, the demand for electronics that help them connect with their schools is up. The most popular product categories for distance learning include computers (34%), tablets (30%), smartphones (23%) and web conferencing accessories like webcam, microphones and headsets (19%), AdColony said. That finding backs up previous research that indicates families this year will spend more on computer equipment, driving a 26% surge in back-to-school spending to a record $101.6 billion this year, the National Retail Federation estimated in July.

About three quarters (77%) of consumers said they will shop at online-only sites, up 18% from a year earlier, while 57% will visit retailers’ websites, up 7% from last year, according to the AdColony research. Only 23% of shoppers plan to use a retailer’s mobile app, however.

Despite the growth in online shopping, the percentage of shoppers who prefer in-store browsing dropped just 3% to 34% this year from 2019, the survey found. That slight dip indicates that some consumer habits are hard to break and that a significant number of shoppers are comfortable going to stores to complete their back-to-school haul.

For consumers who do visit stores, the most common smartphone activities while shopping include researching competitor prices (67%), looking up product reviews (58%), receiving a promotion or discount (43%), and taking a picture for future reference (33%).