Back-to-School Spending to Top $83 Billion, Says Retail Group

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Buoyed by a strong job market and a stable economy, consumers are forecast to spend $83.6 billion on back-to-school and back-to-college items, an increase of more than 10% from last year’s $75.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey.

“Families are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more confident about the economy,” NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said in a statement. “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.”

College students and their families plan to spend an average of $969.88, up from $888.71 last year. Total spending is expected to be $54.1 billion, up from $48.5 billion in 2016 and exceeding the record of $53.5 billion in 2012.

Growing college enrollment is a  big reason behind the surge in spending, the NRF said. 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 said college consumers plan to spend $12.8 billion on electronics (bought by 51%), $8 billion on clothing (78%), $7.5 billion on snacks and other food items (75%), $5.9 billion on dorm/apartment furnishings (51%), $4.5 billion on shoes (72 percent), $4.5 billion on personal care items (78 percent), $3.9 billion on school supplies (88%), $3.9 billion on gift cards (40%) and $3.2 billion on branded collegiate gear (56%).

Families with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average $687.72 each, for a total of $29.5 billion. That’s an 8% increase from last year’s $27.3 billion. Total spending for this segment is the second-highest in the history of the survey following a peak of $30.3 billion in 2012, according to the NRF.

Shoppers plan to spend $10.2 billion on clothing (purchased by 95% of respondents), $8.8 billion on electronics such as computers or calculators (60%), $5.6 billion on shoes (93%) and $4.9 billion on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes (97%).

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 35% plan to get a tablet or a calculator. One in four intend to purchase electronic accessories such as a mouse, flash drive or charger.

More families will do their shopping early this year, with 27% starting two months before the beginning of school, up from 22% last year.

Fifty-seven percent of parents will shop at department stores, 54% at discount stores, 46% at clothing stores and online, and 36% at office supply stores.

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 was conducted for the NRF by Prosper Insights and Analytics.The survey of 7,226 consumers asked about both back-to-school and back-to-college plans and was conducted June 30-July 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.