Back-to-school and back-to-college spending is forecast to increase this year, according to various recent reports. While it may seem late for a look at back-to-school trends – which range from mobile shopping to kids’ influence on purchases – past research has shown that late August features the top shopping days.
So what to expect this year? 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.
All in all, it looks like a bright season for back-to-school and back-to-college spending. Based on its annual surveys, the combined total to be spent on K-12 and college is predicted to reach $75.8 billion. That’s a sizable 11% increase from last year’s $68 billion, and represents the highest forecast since 2012.
Of that combined total, $48.5 billion is projected to be spent on back-to-college, up 12.5% from $43.1 billion last year. The remaining $27.3 billion is for back-to-school, up about 10% from $24.9 billion last year. Both figures this year are the highest in about a decade, with the exception of the peak in 2012.
Other studies also project an increase in back-to-school spending, though to different degrees. For example, eMarketer expects a 2.6% rise in retail back-to-school sales, an improvement from last year’s 1.6% increase but down from prior years. Consistent with previous years, though, the back-to-school season is predicted to account for more than one-sixth (17.2%) of full-year retail sales.
Fast Facts & Research Studies
While the following isn’t an exhaustive list, we’ve highlighted several studies concerning 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 context of survey highs or lows, as the research also differs on this topic.
So here goes.
- Discount stores continue to be the primary shopping destination for both back-to-school (61%) and back-to-college (44%) shoppers, but both figures represent new lows in this survey’s history. Source: NRF.
- One-third of shoppers plan to make a purchase online to be picked up in a physical location, with the vast majority (84%) of those intending to make an additional purchase when they pick up their online order. Source: ICSC.)
- More than two-thirds of back-to-school shoppers plan to take advantage of BTS promotions after school begins. Source: Yahoo Advertising / Ipsos Connect.
- For the first time in this survey’s history, more parents will shop at Amazon for tech items than at brick-and-mortar stores. Also at a new high point, the use of mobile: 60% of parents will use mobile devices for at least some BTS shopping. Source: Rubicon Project.
- Recommendations by schools (43%), familiarity with products or brands (42%), children (37%) and coupons (36%) will be leading purchase influencers for parents this year, and parents report saying yes a majority (53%) of the time their kids ask them to buy something. Source: Mintel.
- Some 54% of parents will take the opportunity during the BTS season to teach their children the responsibility of saving money, while 37% will teach them how to search for coupons and deals. Source: RetailMeNot.
- Shopping timing varies by category, with parents expecting their peak spending to occur earlier than July for computers and related items, late in July for school items/supplies, late in August for clothing and accessories and in September for electronic gadgets. Source: Deloitte.
- Deal/coupons apps and websites (32%) top TV (18%), social media (12%), in-store signage (9%) and various other forms of advertising as the biggest influence on parents’ decisions to shop at a particular store or website. Source: Retale.
- Parents’ biggest dread about BTS shopping is not being able to afford everything, while teens dread most not being able to find what they need. Source: Ebates.
- The majority of parents (62%) and college students (70%) begin their search for the best deals online. Source: Synchrony Financial.
- Parents are more likely to prefer doing their back-to-school shopping in a physical store during the BTS season (76%) than for end-of-year holidays (49%), Mother’s Day or Father’s Day (42%) and Black Friday (41%). Source: Citi Retail Services.
- The top tech item planned for purchase this year by BTS shoppers is portable memory (71%). That’s followed by basic calculators (55%), headphones (52%), scientific/graphing calculators (51%) and carrying or protective cases (48%). Source: Consumer Technology Association.
- Parents who shop with their kids for BTS items are more likely to prefer doing so when they’re shopping with younger than older kids. Also on the topic of age, parents are more likely to look for coupons and savings on everything they buy when they’re shopping with older children, likely due to having a longer shopping list. Source: The Integer Group | M/A/R/C Research [download page].
- Back-to-school search ad spending peaked during the August 5-19 period last year, roughly in line though slightly later than in the prior year. Source: Kantar Media [download page].