Back-to-School Stats

July 24, 2013

NRF-Back-to-School-Spending-2004-2013-July2013It’s back-to-school time. Well, not for students, but for marketers and some proactive parents who are already out making purchases. Various surveys are emerging analyzing this year’s landscape, with spending forecasts all over the map. For consistency’s sake, first off, a look at the NRF’s annual survey, which finds planned spending dipping after a big jump last year. According to the study, families with school-age children plan to spend an average of $634.78 this year, down from $688.62 last year. Total spending is expected to fall from $30.3 billion to $26.7 billion.

That $634.78 figure is a lot higher than what the ICSC came up with in its annual study, produced in association with Goldman Sachs. According to those survey results, average household spending on back-to-school items is projected to be roughly $285. About 4 in 10 consumers plan to spend more this year, compared to 17% who said they would spend less.

Meanwhile, an survey indicates that 45% of respondents will spend at least $200 on each child. On average, families will spend $688 on back-to-school items, a figure that’s much more in line with NRF estimates.

Some Shoppers Getting Started Early

There’s more consensus in the NRF and ICSC data when looking at shopping times. The NRF survey finds that about 24% of families with children in grades K-12 will start their shopping at least 2 months before school – about now. That’s up from 22.3% last year, and is the highest figure in the 11-year history of the survey.

According to the ICSC, 29% of households had already begun to shop as of mid-July, although that was down from 33% last year. Overall, two-thirds said they would do most of their shopping in August.

The NPD Group has its own survey which also contrasts with the NRF’s results: the former finds that there will be a 5% drop in the number of consumers shopping before August 1 this year.

What’s On The Shopping List?

There are various items that make it on to the back-to-school shopping list, but most dollars – on average – will be allocated to clothing and accessories ($225) and electronics or computer-related equipment ($206, up from $194 last year), per the NRF survey results. Next up, shoes command an average of $110 per family, with school supplies seeing the lowest average budget allocation ($86).

While school supplies may not be seeing the most expenditures, they will be most in demand, according to the ICSC. 89% of respondents said they need school supplies, while 79% said they need apparel.

While The NPD Group didn’t outline average spending amounts by category, it has some ideas regarding which categories will be getting a leg up this year and which won’t. Topping the list, spending on apparel should grow by 11% from last year, with footwear (+9%) close behind. By contrast, spending on school supplies are expected to decline by 5%.

Where are parents looking for deals? According to the survey, those who plan on shopping for back-to-school gear will most likely look for deals on clothing (85%), shoes (80%), and school supplies (68%), with parents perhaps less optimistic they’ll be able to find deals on computers and tablets (21%).

Top Shopping Destinations

It’s a tie at the top, says the NRF, with 60.4% of shoppers planning to shop at discount stores, and the exact same proportion expecting to do their shopping at department stores. (Both are down from last year.) Interestingly, just 34.4% plan to do their back-to-school shopping online this year, down from 36% last year and 41.3% in 2011.

It’s not a tie at the top, says the ICSC, which finds that 90% plan to shop at discount stores (up from 83% last year) while 41% will shop at traditional department stores.

Although the NPD Group doesn’t detail the most popular shopping destinations, it predicts that spending online will grow by 4% this year, as will spending in department stores. National chains (-4%) and mass merchants (-8%) ought to prepare for a drop in back-to-school spending, judging by the NPD findings.

What About Back to College?

College students and their parents will also cut back on spending this year, per the NRF survey results. According to the NRF’s study, the average back-to-college shopper will spend $836.83 this year, down from $907.22 last year. Perhaps to cut costs, the proportion of college students commuting from home is slated for an increase this year, from 42.9% to 47.7%.

For college students, electronics ($203.28) will capture the highest average spending, followed by clothing and accessories (excluding shoes; $122.70), dorm or apartment furnishing ($104.76) and food items ($104.44).

According to, the average back-to-college shopper will spend $907 this year.

Other Findings:

  • Compared to last year, the NPD Group finds that there have been increases in the proportion of consumers who will be shopping for back-to-school items as replacements (+6%), because they’re required (+5%), and because the child wants it (+4%).
  • According to the NRF, about 6 in 10 parents say their children will influence at least half of their back-to-school purchases.

About the Data: 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 1-8.The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points.

The ICSC-Goldman Sachs consumer tracking survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation between July 12 and July 15, 2013.

The NPD Group findings are based on a poll of 2,500 members of The NPD Group’s online consumer panel. US adults age 18 and older participated in the study, which was fielded between June 25 and July 1, 2013.

The survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive from June 12-14, 2013 among 2,020 US adults aged 18 and older, of which 472 are parents of school age children.

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