The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty in just about every facet of life. Whether or not kids and college students in the US will head back into the classroom in August and September has not escaped this uncertainty, despite federal mandates that students and teachers return to school when the new school year begins. This ambiguity has not stopped families from preparing, with back-to-school and back-to-college spending expected to reach a record high this year, per a new survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.
NRF estimates that the combined total to be spent on K-12 and college will reach $101.6 billion this year, up considerably from last year’s $80.7 billion. NRF also notes that this is the first time back-to-school spending estimates have exceeded the $100 billion mark.
Of the estimated total spending, K-12 school spending accounts for $33.9 billion (up 29% over 2019) while college spending is expected to represent $67.7 billion (up 24% over 2019) of total back-to-school spending.
The amount estimated to be spent per household has also reached new highs. Per household spending for K-12 students is expected to be $789.49, up from $696.70 last year. And, per family spending for college is forecast to be $1,059.20, which is up from last year’s per family expenditure of $976.78.
As further evidence of the uncertainty that families are feeling, only 17% of survey respondents say they have finished their back-to-school shopping. This is, in part, due to many not having a list of items to buy, with more than half (54%) of those who still have a lot of their shopping to do saying they do not know what they need. That said, many families believe they will have received lists by the end of July (40%) or by the end of August (30%).
E-Learning Drives Some Spending on Electronics
Some 55% of the consumers surveyed believe that students will take at least some of their classes at home this fall, more than double the share (26%) who expect that most or all classes will be taught in-person.
With that in mind, 7 in 10 (72%) consumers say they will need to buy items to accommodate home learning. More than one-third (36%) say they plan to purchase a laptop specifically because of e-learning. Others say they plan to purchase other items such as speakers/headphones (22%) and electronic accessories (21%).
And, while the prospect of e-learning is a driving factor for some to purchase electronics, NRF expects purchases of computers and other electronic equipment to increase, in general. Some 63% of K-12 shoppers and 60% of college shoppers say they expect to buy items in this category, up from 54% and 53%, respectively, in 2019.
Shopping Behavior Changes Due to COVID-19
Where consumers will make their purchase has also shifted somewhat. Some 55% of K-12 shoppers say they will be buying online (up from 49% in 2019). This is as fewer consumers expect to visit department stores (37% vs. 53% in 2019), discount stores (36% vs 50%), clothing stores (30% vs. 45%) and office supply stores (23% vs. 31%) to do their back-to-school shopping.
Further research from Deloitte also highlights the shift towards online shopping for the upcoming school year. Deloitte’s data for K-12 back-to-school shopping shows that, while in-store shopping is expected to fall from 56% in 2019 to 43% this year, online shopping is expected to increase from 29% to 37%.
Similarly, Deloitte found that 34% of back-to-college shoppers believe they will shop online this year (up from 28% in 2019) compared to the 37% who say they will shop in-store (down from 46% in 2019).
Further data can be read online here.
About the Data: Figures are based on a survey of 7,481 consumers conducted Jul 1 through Jul 8, 2020.