In its 2012 Back to College Survey, conducted for the National Retail Federation by BIGinsight and released Thursday, eight in 10 (that’s 83.5%) back to college shoppers say the economy effects their spending plans.
To compensate, more people this year will use the Internet to their advantage by doing more comparative shopping online (34.6% vs. 30.7%) and shopping online more often (20.5% vs. 18.8% last year.) More parents will also ask their children to make-do with last year’s items (31.2% vs. 29.7% last year), too.
While they may do more comparative shopping searching for deals, that doesn’t they will cut back on how much they spend. Indeed, the survey found college students and their families will spend an average $907.22 on everything from dorm furniture and collegiate gear to school supplies and personal care items, up from $808.71 last year.
Total spending for back-to-college is expected to reach $53.5 billion. (Combined K to 12 and college spending will reach $83.8 billion, serving as the second biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the November/December holiday season.)
Where They Shop: Catalogs, Online, Home Stores
“With fewer ‘needs’ than a typical grade-school student, college students and their families are much more likely to look for ways to cut corners this summer as much of their costs come in the form of tuition and living arrangements,” said Matthew Shay, NRF’s president/ceo. “As the economy continues to play a role in Americans’ spending decisions, retailers will offer shoppers plenty of ways to save money both in their stores and on their websites, including bundles, free gifts and gift cards with their purchase and even free online shipping on school items, aiming to attract value-focused back-to-college shoppers.”
The economy isn’t only influencing how people shop but where they shop as well. About 15.1% of shoppers said they plan to use catalogs to buy their college items, up from 11.4% last year and just 8.3% the year prior. That’s due to the fact the Internet has helped the resurgence of both digital and paper catalogs among shoppers of all ages. Nearly one-quarter (24.9%) of the average 25 to 34 year old will use catalogs to purchase school items.
Favorite places for college students and their families to shop break down as follows: discount stores (51.9%), department stores (45.4%), drug stores (22.3%), office supplies stores (40.3%), clothing stores (34.8%), electronics stores (21.1%) and thrift stores (15.0%).
“When it comes to how young adults and their parents tackle their college shopping list, nothing is off the table, especially now that catalogs are tablet and mobile-ready,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights director Pam Goodfellow. “Some college students and their parents may be hesitant to commit to any purchase without having researched whether or not they are getting the best deal beforehand. This year every retailer could be a ‘winner’ as consumers will spread out their spending, leaving no retailer unturned.”
What They Plan to Buy: Gift Cards
According to the survey, 74.2% of back to college shoppers will buy apparel and accessories, spending an average of $132.97, and 71%–the highest in the survey’s history, will buy new shoes–spending an average of $75.81.
Electronics will also be popular with college students: 54.0% say they will buy a new computer, MP3 player, smartphone or other device, up from 45.8 percent last year, and will spend an average $216.40. Meanwhile, college freshman, not surprisingly, will spend an average of $262.58 on electronics, the highest of any college level.
Shoppers will also spend on dorm furnishings ($100.27), food items ($100.18), personal care items ($81.76), school supplies ($75.73) and collegiate branded gear ($52.87). Mom and dad are also sending their child to college armed with gift cards – 37.9% of college shoppers are expected to spend an average of $71.23 on gift cards or pre-paid cards, the most since 2009 when this category first appeared in the survey.
College students and their families, like parents with children in grades K to 12, will begin shopping earlier this year. Nearly one-third (31.9%) are planning to start school shopping three weeks to one month before school starts, up from 28.9% last year. Nearly three in 10 (about 29.0%) say they will begin shopping at least two months before school starts, up from 24.4% who said so last year. And 9.2% will start shopping after school starts.
According to the survey, fewer people say their college-aged children will live at home this year (42.9% vs. 52.9% last year), and more say their child will live in a dorm room or college housing (25.9% vs. 18.1% last year.)
Overall, college freshmen and their parents are expected to spend the most this year, spending an average of $929.35. Graduate students, preparing for life on their own or a career, will spend $879.89, followed by sophomores ($812.97), juniors ($767.41) and seniors ($680.70).
About the Survey
NRF’s 2012 Back-to-School and Back-to-College spending surveys were designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to back-to-school spending and back-to-college spending. The surveys were conducted for NRF by BIGinsight. The poll of 8,509 consumers was conducted from July 2- 9, 2012. The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0 percent. www.NRF.com