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Back-to-school season is in full swing once again (with some areas of the country already back) and while total back-to-school (BTS) and back-to-college (BTC) retail spending is expected to be somewhat lower than the previous two years, it still promises to come out strong. In this article, we’ll briefly summarize spending trends from the NRF’s back-to-school (BTS) survey, which we’ve chosen for consistency with previous years. After that, we’ll pick out a key data point from various pieces of research and point you in the direction where you can find more.

Spending Trends

Based on its annual surveys, the NRF estimates that the combined total to be spent on K-12 and college will reach $80.7 billion, which is somewhat less than last year’s $82.8 billion.

Of the combined total to be spent on back-to-school and back-to-college, $54.5 billion is projected to be spent on back-to-college, down 1.4% from last year’s record high. The remaining $26.2 billion is for back-to-school, down about 4.7% from last year. NRF accounts for this drop in spending as a result of fewer households having children in elementary through high school.

Indeed, the drop in total retail spending is purely due to enrollment percentages – as per-family spending is predicted to reach a new record high this year. Families with children in elementary through high school are expected to spend $696.70 this year, up from $684.79 and representing a new high in the survey’s history. Likewise, the tally for families with college students – of $976.78 (up from $942.17 last year) – is the highest on record.

Fast Facts & Research Studies

While the following isn’t an exhaustive list, we’ve highlighted several studies relating to the BTS season. For each study, we’ve picked out an interesting data point, named the source and then provided the link to read more. So use this guide at your own leisure.

Note: we are not including data points about which will be the top-spending categories, as the various surveys are in disagreement over this (tech, clothing and school supplies being key items). Shopping destinations will largely only be mentioned in the context of significant trends, as the research also differs on this topic – though in-store buying remains more popular than e-commerce for the time being. For more data on those areas, click on the links below to visit the individual studies.

So, let’s begin.

  • Parents aren’t the only targets for shopping. Young shoppers (K-12) are spending more of their own money on BTS items, with 13-18-year-olds spending an average of $36.71 (up from $30.88 in 2009) and pre-teens spending an average of $26.40 (up from $11.94 in 2009). Source: NRF.
  • Similarly, more than one-third (38%) of kids participate in choosing what products or brands to buy, while one-fifth (20%) choose where and what to buy. A small number (7%) do their own shopping. Source: JLL, as reported by ChainStoreAge.
  • Along those lines, children will, whether they accompany their parents or not, likely influence about 70% of back-to-school spending during the season. Children’s influence on parents’ BTS shopping is likely to be highest for Clothing & Accessories and for Electronic Gadgets, with lesser influence on Computers & Hardware and Computer Supplies. Source: Deloitte.
  • Younger shoppers expect to do more research prior to doing their BTS shopping. At least 3 in 10 shoppers ages 18-24 years old say they will read online product reviews, ask for recommendations from friends, family or colleagues and consult social media for product information. Source: The Integer Group.
  • Between July and September, shoppers will make an average of 16 trips to the store to purchase items for back to school. Source: MiQ.
  • About two-thirds of total BTS spending is expected to have come between later July (last 2 weeks) and early August (first 2 weeks). Source: Deloitte.
  • By comparison, in 2018, major retailers spent three-quarters of their BTS advertising budgets between July 23 and August 26. Only a small portion (7%) of BTS budgets were allocated to targeting those shoppers getting a jump in the BTS shopping rush between June 25 and July 22. Source: Kantar.
  • BTS shoppers are looking for deals. More than 6 in 10 consumers say they either actively monitor their favorite stores and only shop during BTS sales or shop at whatever store is having a sale when they are planning to buy. Source: BRG.
  • Other research shows that BTS shoppers will predominantly shop in brick-and-mortar stores. However, the convenience of click-and-collect (purchase online from retailers with physical stores and pick up in-store) continues to catch on with 41% of shoppers saying they will use this option (compared to 39% last year). Source ICSC.
  • Omnichannel shoppers (those who are happy to shop in-store or online as a matter of convenience) spent 48% than single-channel shoppers during the BTS season in 2018. Source: Cardlytics.

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