Back-to-School Shopping: A Bonanza for Some Retailers, Disaster for Others

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Second only to the November-December holiday season in importance, back-to-school shopping has long been a critical time of year for many retailers. Some 29 million U.S. households will shop for back-to-school supplies this year and spend $27 billion in the process. That’s about half of what American families will spend on school-related items this year.

Nationally, spending will average $501 per household this year, relatively flat with last year’s $488 spending, according to a report from consulting firm Deloitte. Spending will vary by region, with the South accounting for 44% of the total ($554 per household), followed by the Midwest with 20% ($443) of all spending. The Northeast and the West each will account for 18% of total spending, $513 per household in the Northeast and $455 in the West.

Year-over-year spending on clothing and accessories is forecast to rise from $239 to $284, while spending on electronic gadgets like smartphones is expected to dip from $286 to $254 per household. Spending on school supplies is tabbed to drop from $122 to $104 and spending on computers and hardware is expected to fall from $456 to $307.

Among retailers, the winners are expected to be mass merchants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT). Some 81% of respondents to the Deloitte survey will visit these stores for back-to-school shopping, a year-over-year increase of 24%. The increase comes at the expense of department stores, where shopper visits are forecast to be down 26%. A gain of 18% at off-price stores is offset by a drop of 17% in visits to specialty clothing retailers. Not good news for Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. (NYSE: ANF) and other teen clothing sellers.

The Deloitte researchers also reported that in-store spending is expected to be more than twice online spending. Also, about 71% of spending happens in the eight-week period from early July to late August, and early shoppers are likely to spend more than late shoppers.

Methodology: The Deloitte survey was conducted online using an independent research panel between May 31 and June 6, 2017. The survey polled a sample of 1,200 parents of school-aged children and has a margin of error for the entire sample of plus or minus three percentage points. All respondents had at least one child attending school in grades K–12 this fall.