Back-to-School 2017: Stats & Research Reference

August 14, 2017

Back-to-school (BTS) and back-to-college (BTC) spending are generally forecast to climb again this year, according to recent reports. Although it may seem late for a review of back-to-school trends, 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.

Spending Trends

All in all, it looks like a bright season for back-to-school and back-to-college spending. Based on its annual surveys, the NRF estimates that the combined total to be spent on K-12 and college will reach $83.6 billion. That’s a double-digit increase from last year’s $75.8 billion, which in turn was up by 11% from the year before.

Of that combined total, $54.1 billion is projected to be spent on back-to-college, up 11.5% from last year and the highest figure on the record. The remaining $29.5 billion is for back-to-school, up about 8% from last year and the second-highest figure on record.

Other studies also project an increase in back-to-school spending, though to different degrees. For example, eMarketer expects a 4% rise in retail back-to-school sales, an improvement from last year’s 2.6% increase. Consistent with previous years, the back-to-school season is predicted to account for more than one-sixth (17%) of full-year retail sales. Synchrony Financial’s projection, meanwhile, is for an increase in the 3.7%-4.1% range, while Brand Keys’ latest annual survey indicates that shoppers will spend 6% more on average this year than last.

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 largely 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 here goes.

  • Children are a growing influence on purchases: almost two-thirds (65%) of BTS shoppers report that at least half of their purchases are a direct result of their children’s influence. That’s up from 57% claiming such influence last year. Source: NRF.
  • For younger teens, Instagram (45%) is the most helpful social media platform for finding back-to-school items to buy, while college students see Facebook (53%) as their most helpful. Source: Ebates.
  • Back-to-school shopping is starting earlier and lasting longer. Although the largest share (31%) of consumers said that they started shopping in August last year, 58% started before August, though only one-third (32%) finished before August. In fact, one-third didn’t finish until September or later. Source: NPD Group.
  • In fact, 71% of BTS shopping occurs from early July through late August. While department stores have declined as planned destinations, expected in-store spending overall is more than double that of planned online spend ($288 and $103, respectively). Source: Deloitte.
  • Searches on Yahoo for school supplies peak in August, while searches for school apparel get their peak in September. On a day-of-the-week basis, search volume for school supplies is tops on Monday, while for electronics its highest on Friday. Source: Oath.
  • Back to school ad spending peaked the week of August 8-14 last year, a week later than in 2015. Walmart was the leading BTS advertiser with $30.8 million in spend, up 156% from 2015. Target ($24.4 million) was next, followed by AT&T ($24 million), as wireless telecom providers increased their spending more than tenfold. Best Buy was the leading advertiser by paid search spend, followed by Staples, JCPenney and Target. Source: Kantar Media.
  • Retail marketers are focusing more on digital platforms this year: 89% plan to increase their marketing spend on mobile, while 88% will likewise up their spending on social media. Moreover, upwards of 8 in 10 retail marketers expect to increase the number of promotions they offer this year. Source: RetailMeNot.
  • Almost 9 in 10 shoppers say their purchase plans and spending amounts are influenced by promotions, and 4 in 10 said they would wait to start their shopping until they saw ads or sale prices in stores. Three in 10 will click and collect, with 81% who had already done so reporting making additional purchases at other stores when picking up their order, consistent with last year’s results. Source: ICSC.
  • Some 63% of BTS shoppers plan to buy tech products this year, up from 59% last year. The top 3 tech items planned for purchase this year by BTS shoppers are consistent with last year: portable memory; basic calculators; and headphones. Source: Consumer Technology Association.
  • Consumers vary in how they make decisions about items: while more make purchase decisions about furniture and electronics at home before shopping than in-store or shopping online, apparel purchase decisions are more likely to be made in-store than at home. Source: Valassis.

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