NRF: Families to Increase Spending on Back to School This Year

In What's New, Industry News by Accessories Staff

American Rag Maxi dress and accessories from Macy's back to school

American Rag Maxi dress and accessories from Macy’s back to school

Washington—Driven by increased demand for electronic items and parents’ need to restock their children’s wardrobes and school supplies from last year, families this summer will spend slightly more on back-to-school items than last year.

According to NRF’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5% from $634.78 last year. Total spending on back to school will drop slightly to $26.5 billion as the survey found there are slightly fewer students in households this summer.

Combined spending for back to school and college is expected to reach $74.9 billion.*

“Slow improvements in the economy may have contributed to the growth in confidence among back-to-school shoppers, and while we are encouraged by the overall tone of the results and expect to see continued improvement in consumer spending through the year, we know Americans are still grappling with their purchase decisions every day,” said NRF President/CEO Matthew Shay.

Ready to Spend More on Clothes, Accessories

NRF this year broke out spending by grade, and according to the survey, families with high school students will spend the most. The survey found the average family shopping for high school students will spend $682.99, while spending on middle school/junior high comes in a close second at $682.13. Parents with elementary school-age children will spend an average of $580.94

While department and discount stores will be the most visited among school shoppers, Millennial students** may be driving an increase in planned spending at specialty stores. The survey found 53.8% of back-to-school shoppers will shop a clothing store, up from 51.5% last year and a survey high; 27.5% will shop at electronics stores, up from 25.9 percent last year and another survey high. Six in 10 (64.4%) will visit discount stores, 59.1% will shop at their favorite department store, 42% will shop at office supply stores, 38.2% will shop online, and 20.5% will shop at drug stores.

For the first time, NRF asked school shoppers about their plans to shop at local/small businesses for their needs: 17.4% will support local/small retailer to buy school items.

Overall, every category will see an increase in spending, including healthy increases in average spend on supplies and electronics. According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers will spend an average $212.35 on electronic items, up 7% from $199.05 last year, with total spend expected to reach $8.4 billion. High school students and their families specifically will spend an average $229.88 on electronic items.

Perhaps due to school districts’ growing requests for classroom supply contributions, spending on school supplies will increase 12% to an average of $101.18, compared to $90.49 last year. Additionally, shoppers will spend an average of $231.30 on clothes, up from $230.85, and $124.46 on shoes, up from $114.39 in 2013.

Tweens, Millennials Play Big Role

As seen in recent years, early-bird shoppers are once again leading the charge for school shopping, but some parents and their children this year will wait until the dog days of summer to tackle their school lists, continuing the game of cat and mouse with retailers. According to the survey, one-quarter (25.4%) will take advantage of retailers’ late summer deals and shop one to two weeks before school, up from 21.8% last year; one in five (22.5%) will shop at least two months before school starts, and another 44.5% will shop three weeks to one month before school starts. Additionally, 4.3% will shop the week school starts, and 3.4% will start after the start of the school year.

There’s no question that today’s Millennial high school students are unique in many ways, and when it comes to shopping, these kids want to make sure they are a part of their parents’ buying decisions. According to the survey, teenagers are planning to spend $913 million of their own money on school items, ensuring their style shines through all year long, with the average 13 to 17 year old planning to spend an average of $34.40, up from $30.13 last year. Pre-teens will spend an average $22.27 of their own money, totaling $544 million.

And, when it comes to the influence these students have on their parents’ purchasing decisions, the evidence is indisputable. The survey found 9.7% of parents admit their child influences 100% of what they buy for back to school, up from 7.6% of parents last year and the highest in the survey’s history. Broken out by grade, 12.4% of parents with high school students say 100% of their purchases are influenced by their teenagers. Most parents (34.8%) say at least half of their back-to-school purchases are influenced by their children.

“It’s safe to say this generation takes back-to-school shopping much more serious than their older brothers and sisters did, with many kids today influencing almost everything their parents buy for the upcoming school year,” said Prosper Insights Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “Students will make sure to keep one eye on social media and the other on retailers’ websites as they seek out what’s new and exciting in their hunt for fresh, fashionable and relevant back-to-school gear.”

Economy Still Affects

Compared to the average adult, men will reach deeper into their pockets for their children’s school needs this summer. According to the survey, men will spend an average $754.30 on school items, up 12 percent from last year. Women will spend an average of $588.80, down $11 from $599.30 last year. Additionally, 25-34 year olds will be the highest spending age group at $822.01, followed by 35-44 year olds ($716.78), 45-54 year olds ($694.83), and 18 – 24 year olds ($682.66).

Since 2009 NRF has been asking school shoppers about how the U.S. economy will impact their spending plans, and while it’s evident the impact has lessened, eight in 10 (81.1%) Americans this year are still affected, up slightly from 80.5% last year. Specifically, more families will buy store brand/generic items for school (34% vs. 32.8% last year), 25.6% will make do with last year’s items, up from 23.7% last year, and 19.6% will shop online more often to save money, up from 18.5% last year and the highest percent seen.

Big Year for Mobile

As more Americans become comfortable with the notion of using their mobile devices to shop, families this summer are planning to turn to their handhelds to aid in their shopping. The survey found 36.7 percent of smartphone owners shopping for school items will research products using their mobile device, up from 34.7 percent last year and the highest since NRF started asking in 2011; one in five (21.8%) will make a purchase via their smartphone, up from 18.2 percent last year and another survey high. And while many will simply shop online directly through their smartphone, one-quarter (25.1%) will use their device to find information about a physical store.

School shoppers that own tablets will also use their device more to shop this summer; 31.4 percent will purchase school items via their tablet, up from 29.9 percent last year, and 45 percent will research products, up from 41.8 percent last year.

New Arrivals at Buckle

New Arrivals at Buckle

Millennials Stock Up for College

Having a longer list of items to buy that are also commonly known to be pricier than their younger counterpart, college students and their families are the real “golden geese” when it comes to school shopping. NRF’s 2014 Back-to-College Survey found the average college student and their family will spend $916.48 on dorm furniture, school supplies, electronics and more, up 10 percent from $836.83 last year. Total college spending is expected to reach $48.4 billion.

Combined college and school spending is expected to reach $74.9 billion.*

“The ‘varsity’ class often gets overlooked each summer as back-to-school shoppers drive the news, but the truth is that today, college students and their parents contribute a significant amount to the economy,” said Shay. “Not immune to economic challenges, college students themselves and their parents will take great care when checking items off their lists. Retailers, hoping to get a head start on this extremely competitive shopping season, will attract these Millennials with promotions through Instagram and other social channels, as well as through content that speaks to these tech-savvy, fashion-forward students.”

Like back-to-school shoppers, college shoppers to invest in supplies, electronics; more families than ever to shop online for items.

When it comes to purchases of electronic items and computer-related equipment, college students and their parents plan to spend an average of $243.79 on laptops, desktop computers, netbooks, tablets, smartphones and more, up 20 percent over last year’s $203.28 and the highest amount since 2009. Graduate students will spend the most on electronics ($275.24). After cutting back last year, spending on school supplies is expected to increase 19% to $74.80 on average.

Likely driven by fashion-forward Millennials hoping to head to college in style, parents and their students will spend 13% more on apparel ($138.73 vs. $122.70 last year). Others will spend on food items ($103.87 vs. $104.44 last year), shoes ($77.60 vs. $65.60), personal care items ($78.08 vs. $65.08), and gift cards ($55.56 vs. $65.12.)

Overall, broken out by grade, freshmen and their families will spend the most at an average of $908.69, followed by graduate students ($856.29), juniors ($791.08), sophomores ($670.89) and seniors ($567.52).

With an array of items to stock up on before classes start, parents will take their college students all over town to get the best deals. According to the survey, most (50.5%) will shop at discount stores, up from 48.3% last year, and department stores (46.6%), up from 42.7% last year. Online will be a popular destination for shoppers: more than two in five (44.6%) will check out retailers’ websites for special promotions, up from 37.1% last year and the highest in the survey’s history.

Others will shop at collegiate bookstores (41.9%), office supply stores (36.3%), and clothing stores (34%). Additionally, 13.2% will shop at small/local businesses.

Men will Outspend

Usually the big spender when it comes to college shopping, men are no different this year. The survey found men will spend an average of $976.43 to get their dependent ready for college, up from $963.27 last year. Women will spend an average of $859.73, up significantly over last year’s $717.32. Men won’t waste their time getting to the electronics store either: the survey found men will spend an average of $260.34 on new gadgets, up from $227.06 last year. Not to be outdone, women will spend $228.12 on average, up from $180.81 last year.

Recognizing the benefits of end-of-season prices and promotions, parents of college students and the students themselves may be taking a cue from K-12th grade shoppers and planning to begin shopping later this summer. According to the survey, one-quarter (25.6%) will begin shopping one to two weeks before school starts, up from 19.9% last year. But there are still plenty of early-bird shoppers: nearly three in 10 (28.2%) will shop two months before school, and one-third (33.4%) will shop three weeks to one month before school. Fewer shoppers will go after school starts, perhaps knowing there will be less likely of a chance to get a hot item to show off to classmates (6.5% vs. 10.8% last year).

“College shoppers generally cannot take the kind of gamble their younger counterparts can by waiting until the last minute to buy what they need for school—especially given their timeframes to return to class or even make a big move across country—but this year, we are seeing that they too want to play the waiting game to see if deals are better later on,” said Goodfellow.

Online, Mobile Shopping to Aid Budget Focused

For seven out of 10 (77.2%) college students and their families, the economy is a contributing factor to how, when, where and why they shop for college items. Though the findings are much lower than previous years when nearly 85% said the economy would impact their spending plans, families today are still making adjustments to ease the impact on their budgets.

The survey found one-third (33%) will do more comparative shopping online because of the economy, up from 31.7% last year, and 21% will shop online more often as a result, up from 18.6% last year and the highest in the six years NRF has been asking the question. Additionally, 10.1% said the economy is impacting students’ living situations, and 12% said the economy is impacting where students go to college (i.e. two-year versus four-year, closer to home, public versus private, etc.).

When it comes to mobile usage, nearly six in 10 (57.8%) will use their smartphone in some fashion as they shop for college items. Of those with smartphones, the survey found one-third (33.8%) will research products, the highest since NRF added mobile shopping questions to its survey in 2011. Additionally, one in five (22.4%) will purchase items, up from 19.1% last year and another survey high, and 29.8% will look up retailer information, up from 20.9% last year.

More than half (54.5%) of tablet owners will use their tablet to shop for college items. Specifically, 37.4% will research products, and 27% will use their tablet to purchase items.

About the Survey

NRF’s 2014 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 6,178 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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