NRF: Back-to-School Sales Unlikely to Make the Grade Seen in 2012

Macy's Back-to-School promotions are already in full swing

Macy’s Back-to-School promotions are already in full swing

Washington—Back-to-school sales benefitted last year from pent-up demand so much so that this year parents may not have to buy as much, resulting in a significantly shorter shopping list.

That’s the findings of the 2013 Back-to-School Survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

While parents plan to spend $634.78 this year compared to $688.62 last year, apparel and accessories top their lists: 95.3% of those with school-age children will spend an average of $230.85 on fall sweaters, denim and other attire. Additionally, families will spend on shoes ($114.39) and school supplies ($90.49).

The upswing in apparel and accessories may be due to fewer families planning to buy electronics (55.7%) or a new table or smartphone ($199.05 vs. $217.88 in 2012).

“The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind. Having splurged on their growing children’s needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season.” said Matthew Shay, NRF president/ceo. “As they continue to grapple with the impact of increased payroll taxes, Americans will look to cut corners where they can, but will buy what their kids need. It’s important to note, however, that spending levels are still well above where they were a few years ago.”

Indeed, it’s clear the economy is still weighing heavy on the average family’s mind; the survey this year found eight in 10 school shoppers (80.5%) say economic conditions will change their spending in some way. Turning to the Internet to save money, 36.6% say they will do more comparative shopping online and 18.5% will shop online more often.

What’s more, they plan to shop earlier than has been the norm: 23.9% of families say they will begin shopping at least two months before school (i.e. right now), up from 22.3% last year and the highest percentage seen in the survey’s 11-year history. Half (49%) will shop three weeks to one month before school, 21.8% will shop one to two weeks before school, 2.8% will shop the week school starts, and 2.6%  will shop after the start of the season.

Department Stores Still Popular

“We continue to see a shift in shopping patterns during big spending ‘events’, where consumers typically head out early to take advantage of fresh inventory options and initial markdowns, then see a lull only to rev back up again when final sales appear,” said Pam Goodfellow, director at Prosper Consumer Insights, which conducted the survey. “Hoping to spread out their budgets but still reap the benefits of getting the products their children want, parents this back-to-school season will comparison shop online and around town at their child’s favorite stores, potentially even more than once, as they seek to find bargains and products that offer the best value.”

Though most school shoppers (67.1%) will visit their favorite discount store for school items as they did last year, department stores will be popular with teens and their parents this season as well: 61.7% will shop at department stores, up from 59.9 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s history.

JCPenney adds Joe Fresh for Kids

JCPenney adds Joe Fresh for Kids

Additionally, 51.5% will shop at a clothing store, 40.6% will shop at an office supply store, 37.3% will shop online and 25.9% will shop at an electronics store. One in five will hit their local drug store (19.6%) and 13.7% will look for goods at thrift/resale stores.

Style savvy teens and tweens will be putting the pressure on their parents to shop and buy new school gear that meets the “cool factor.” According to the survey, 59.6% of parents say their children influence at least half of their back-to-school purchases. And for those extra small purchases, children plan to chip in some of their own money as well. Teens will dole out $30.13 of their own money, and pre-teens will spend an average $18.4–both slightly down from last year.

All told, back-to-school spending is expected to reach $26.7 billion. Adding in back-to-college spending and the combined total is $72.5 billion.*

Back-to-College Spending Plans Drop, Too

Much like families with children in grades K to 12, college students and their parents will trim their budgets this year as well, looking for ways to reuse what they have and spend only on what they need.

According to NRF’s 2013 Back-to-College survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, college students and their families will spend an average $836.83 on apparel, electronics, dorm furnishings and more, down from $907.22 last year. Total spending for back-to-college is expected to reach $45.8 billion.

The largest portion of college shoppers’ budgets will go toward electronics ($203.28). Other traditional college expenditures will include clothing and accessories ($122.70), shoes ($65.60), gift cards ($65.12), personal care items ($65.08), school supplies ($62.92) and collegiate gear ($42.94).

The survey found college shoppers are already getting ready for the school year. Nearly three in 10 (29.8%) students and their parents say they will begin shopping at least two months before school—or right now—up from 29% last year and the highest in the survey’s history. More than one-third (34.5%) will begin three weeks to one month before school and 19.9% will begin one to two weeks before school.

Overall, parents and their college-age children will shop around for their needs, but most will look to discount stores (48.3%) and department stores (42.7%). Three in 10 (30.8%) will shop at clothing stores, one-third (33.3%) will head to office supply stores and 37.1 percent will shop online. The most in the survey’s history–17.2%–will shop at home furnishings or home décor stores, up from 16.4% last year. Additionally, 20.4% will shop at electronics stores and 18.5% will shop at drug stores.

Economy Still a Factor

Back-to-School at Buckle

Back-to-School at Buckle

Though many economic indicators point to a growing economy, it is clear consumers are still wary about their finances. The survey found more than three-quarters (76.5%) of college shoppers say the economy will impact their spending in some way, which is down from 83.5% last year, but still shows caution with spending plans. Specifically, 32% will buy generic or store brand products, and 37.5% will shop for sales more often; 10.1% say the economy is affecting where their student lives for the school year.

The survey found college seniors and their families will spend slightly more than last year ($702.81 vs. $680.70) but will look for ways to cut corners because of the state of the economy. Specifically, 44.8% plan to make do with last year’s items, up from 38.9% last year, and more than half (51%) will spend less overall on the items they do buy, up from 42.6% last year.

About the Survey

NRF’s 2013 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 Prosper Insights & Analytics. The poll of 5,635 consumers was conducted July 1  to 8.The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points.

*The total spending figure is an extrapolation of U.S. adults 18 and older.

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