Back to Class Spending Expected to Reach Record High This Year

August 3, 2022

Over the past couple of years, the pandemic has led to the phrase “back-to-school” taking on different meanings for different people. This year, though, despite the virus still circulating, there’s a more stable outlook for the educational environment. And with that, inflation and economic concerns aside, it looks like a bumper year for back-to-class spending, according to survey results from both the NRF and Deloitte.

The NRF’s survey results indicate that back-to-school spending will total $36.9 billion this year. While that in itself almost matches last year’s record $37.1 billion in planned, the back-to-college spending data reveals an expected increase, from last year’s high of $71 billion to a new record of $73.9 billion. (In fact, per person spending on back-to-college is higher than any other US consumer spending event, including the winter holidays, with back-to-school third on the list, according to NRF data.)

In sum, then, the $110.8 billion to be spent on back-to-school and back-to-college this year is a combined high that surpasses last year’s $108.1 billion.

These figures also are well above the pre-pandemic total, which saw combined back-to-class spending at $80.7 billion in 2019.

The expected spending per household on back-to-school this year is $864, up $15 from last year and the highest total on record. Expected per-household spend on back-to-college, meanwhile, is $1,199, basically matching last year’s $1,200.

It’s worth noting that Deloitte – while also forecasting increases in back-to-class spending – comes to some different conclusions about spending totals and the gaps between the back-to-school and back-to-class markets.

In its back-to-school survey [pdf], Deloitte finds that the market size sits at a hefty $34.4 billion, up by 5.8% from last year and representing a 24% increase over 2019. These general trends are similar to the NRF, in terms of the large increase from the pre-pandemic days and the total market size. Deloitte looks at spending in terms of the average spend per child, which it estimates will be $661.

Where Deloitte differs more is in its assessment of the back-to-college market. In its survey [pdf], the expected average spend per child of $1,600 is well above the per-household spend estimated by the NRF, but the estimated market size of $28.3 billion is multiples below that estimated by the NRF. Nonetheless, the trends are fairly similar, with Deloitte estimating a market size gain of 6% this year for back-to-college spending.

Back-to-Class Shopping Stats

Following are key highlights from the NRF and Deloitte surveys on back-to-class shopping, sorted by source.

NRF

  • Almost 4 in 10 consumers are cutting back spend in other areas to cover the cost of items for this school year.
  • By early July, a majority (56%) of shoppers had started their back-to-class shopping, though a strong majority (85%) still had more than half of their shopping left to do.
  • Two-thirds (68%) of respondents have noticed higher prices on school items.
  • The top 3 destinations for both back-to-school and back-to-college shopping are online, department stores, and discount retailers.
  • The largest amount of back-to-school shopping will be spent on electronics or computer-related equipment ($12.5 billion), followed by clothing and accessories, excluding shoes ($11.3 billion). While the total amount spent on clothing and accessories and shoes will rise from last year, it’s expected to slip for electronics and school supplies.
  • Electronics will be easily the largest category for back-to-college spending, at a total of $18.5 billion, up from $18.1 billion last year.
  • Nearly half of the increase in spending on back-to-college comes from spending on electronics and dorm or apartment furnishings.

Deloitte

  • Among those expecting to spend more on back-to-school this year, 60% say that the main driver is prices being generally higher, up from 45% who said the same last year.
  • Spending on clothing and accessories is predicted to rise by 18%, while spending on tech products is forecast to decline by 8%.
  • Back-to-school shoppers expect to allocate about half (49%) of their spending to in-store shopping, up from 43% last year, with 35% allocated to online, down from 39% last year.
  • 3 in 4 (77%) will trade brands if their preferred brand isn’t in stock, and 6 in 10 will check stock availability before making a shopping trip.
  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of back-to-school shoppers plan to use smartphones to assist in their shopping, up from 58% last year, and overtaking desktops (58%, down from 67%) in popularity.
  • In contrast to back-to-school shopping, back-to-college spending on tech products is expected to grow by 22%, while spending on dorm/apartment furniture supplies as well as spending on college supplies are predicted to decline.
  • A majority (53%) are buying fewer traditional college supplies as a result of an increasing use of digital technologies.
  • There’s a more even distribution of spending by channel for back-to-college, with respondents expected to spend 44% of their budgets in-store versus 38% online.

About the Data: The NRF survey results are based on a survey conducted June 30-July 7 among 7,830 US consumers. The Deloitte back-to-school survey was conducted May 20-June 2 among “a sample of 1,200 parents of school-aged children, with respondents having at least one child attending school in grades K to 12 this fall.” The Deloitte back-to-college survey was conducted May 20-June 14 among “a sample of 950 parents of college-aged children, with respondents having at least one child attending college this fall.”

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