The National Retail Federation (NRF) says that rising consumer confidence and a growing number of young people in school will see college spending hitting an all-time high this year, and back-to-school spending overall reaching its second-highest spending level on record.
The NRF's annual survey, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, forecasts that total spending for school and college combined will reach US$83.6 billion, a more than 10% increase from last year's US$75.8 billion.
"Families are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more confident about the economy," says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "With stronger employment levels and a continued increase in wages, consumers are spending more and we are optimistic that they will continue to do so throughout the rest of the year. As students head back to the classroom, retailers are prepared to meet their needs whether it's for pencils and paper, shirts and pants or laptops and tablets."
Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average US$687.72 each, for a total of US$29.5 billion, an 8% increase from last year's US$27.3 billion. Total spending is the second-highest in the history of the survey following a peak of US$30.3 billion in 2012.
According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend US$10.2 billion on clothing (purchased by 95% of respondents), US$8.8 billion on electronics such as computers or calculators (60%), US$5.6 billion on shoes (93%) and US$4.9 billion on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes (97%). Parents say they will spend an average of US$238.89 on clothing, US$204.33 on electronics, US$130.38 on shoes and US$114.12 on school supplies. Consumers plan to spend more across all categories, with shoes and school supplies seeing the highest expected increase.
For the first time, the survey asked consumers what types of electronics they plan to purchase. Among electronics shoppers, 45% said they would buy a laptop computer while more than a third plan to purchase a tablet (35%) or a calculator (35%). One in four plan to purchase electronic accessories such as a mouse, flash drive or charger.
"Schools are changing their classroom experience to include more technology including laptops and tablets," says Pam Goodfellow, Principal Analyst at Prosper. "That is why many parents, specifically Millennials, are spending more during back-to-school season and taking advantage of retailers' best deals to stretch their budgets."
According to the survey, 65% of back-to-school shoppers say half or more of their purchases are a direct result of their children's influence, up from 57% last year. And while children's influence is growing, so too is their willingness to help their parents pay the bill: teenagers will contribute US$37.64, up from last year's US$32.90, and pre-teens will contribute US$27.09, up from last year's US$20.08.
More families will tackle their back-to-school lists early this year with 27% beginning two months before the beginning of school, up from 22% last year. But 21% will wait until the last week or two before school starts, about the same as last year's 22%. Of those shopping early, 60% say they are trying to spread out their budgets, 48% don't want to miss out on sales, and 43% want to avoid crowds.
When it comes to where parents will buy, 57% will shop at department stores, 54% at discount stores, 46% each at clothing stores and online, and 36% at office supply stores. For those shopping online, 91% plan to take advantage of free shipping and 54% will buy online and pick up in-store.
College students and their families plan to spend an average of US$969.88, up from last year's US$888.71. Total spending is expected to be US$54.1 billion, up from US$48.5 billion last year and surpassing 2012's record of US$53.5 billion. The increase in spending is driven, in part, to growing college enrollment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment has steadily increased over the last five years and is projected to reach nearly 21 million this fall.
The survey found college consumers plan to spend US$12.8 billion on electronics (purchased by 51%), US$8 billion on clothing (78%), US$7.5 billion on snacks and other food items (75%), US$5.9 billion on dorm/apartment furnishings (51%), US$4.5 billion on shoes (72%), US$4.5 billion on personal care items (78%), US$3.9 billion on school supplies (88%), US$3.9 billion on gift cards (40%) and US$3.2 billion on branded collegiate gear (56%). Households plan to spend an average of US$229.20 on electronics, US$142.90 on clothing, US$134.20 on food, US$105.58 on dorm/apartment furnishings, US$81.38 on shoes, US$81 on personal care items, US$70.08 on school supplies, US$68.99 on gift cards and US$56.57 on branded gear.
Similar to K-12, the survey asked back-to-college shoppers for the first-time what types of electronics they plan to purchase. The survey found 61% plan to purchase a laptop, 28% a tablet, 26% electronic accessories, 24% a calculator, and 21% a smartphone/cell phone.
Also similar to K-12, more back-to-college buyers are shopping early. This year, 32% will start two months before school compared with 26% last year. And only 21% will leave shopping until the last week or two before school starts, down from 25% last year. Of those shopping early, 64% are trying to spread out their budgets, 41% don't want to miss sales, and 37% want to avoid crowds.
When it comes to where to shop, 44% will go online, 40% to discount stores, 39% to department stores, 34% to college bookstores, and 29% to office supply stores.
The survey of 7,226 consumers asked about both back-to-school and back-to-college plans and was conducted June 30-July 5.