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Families will spend slightly more on back-to-school items than last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School survey.

April 6, 2018

5 Min Read

Driven by increased demand for electronic items and parents’ need to restock their children’s school supplies from last year, families this summer will spend slightly more on back-to-school items than last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School survey.

The average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent 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,” says Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer, NRF. “Throughout the history of this survey, spending has fluctuated based on family needs each year, and this summer, we expect parents to continue to use caution, but also make smart decisions for their family budget.”   

This year the NRF broke out spending by grade, and according to the survey, families with high school students will spend the most. The survey found that 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

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 percent from $199.05 last year, with total spend expected to reach $8.4 billion.

Spending on school supplies will increase 12 percent 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.

The survey found 53.8 percent of back-to-school shoppers will shop a clothing store, up from 51.5 percent last year and a survey high; 27.5 percent will shop at electronics stores, up from 25.9 percent last year and another survey high. Six in 10 (64.4 percent) will visit discount stores, 59.1 percent will shop at their favorite department store, 42 percent will shop at office supply stores, 38.2 percent will shop online and 20.5 percent will shop at drug stores.

When it comes to shopping, today’s millennial high school students 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, 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 percent of parents admit their child influences 100 percent of what they buy for back-to-school, up from 7.6 percent of parents last year and the highest in the survey’s history.

“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,” says Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director, Prosper Insights, the organization that conducted the survey. “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.”

NRF’s 2014 Back-to-College survey found that 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.

“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,” says 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.”

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 percent 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 percent 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.)

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