Electronics, school supplies to drive back-to-school spending

RetailME Bureau

Driven by increased demand for electronic items and parents’ need to restock their children’s school supplies from last year, families in the US this summer will spend slightly more on back-to-school items than last year. According to NRF’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5% 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 NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “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 that is a good balance between what their children ‘want’ and what they actually need.”

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

Parents ready to spend more

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% from $199.05 last year, with total spend expected to reach $8.4 billion. High school students and their families specifically will spend an average $229.88 on electronic items.

Perhaps due to school districts’ growing requests for classroom supply contributions, spending on school supplies will increase 12% 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.

While department and discount stores will be the most visited among school shoppers, millennial students (NRF defines millennials as those born between the early 80s and late 90s) may be driving an increase in planned spending at specialty stores. The survey found 53.8% of back-to-school shoppers will shop at a clothing store, up from 51.5% last year and a survey high; 27.5% will shop at electronics stores, up from 25.9% last year and another survey high. Six in 10 (64.4%) will visit discount stores, 59.1% will shop at their favourite department store, 42% will shop at office supply stores, 38.2% will shop online, and 20.5%  will shop at drug stores.

For the first time, NRF asked school shoppers about their plans to shop at local/small businesses for their needs: 17.4% will support local/small retailer to buy school items.

Tweens, millennials to play a big role

As seen in recent years, early-bird shoppers are once again leading the charge for school shopping, but some parents and their children this year will wait until the dog days of summer to tackle their school lists, continuing the game of cat and mouse with retailers. According to the survey, one-quarter (25.4%) will take advantage of retailers’ late summer deals and shop one to two weeks before school, up from 21.8%  last year; one in five (22.5%) will shop at least two months before school starts, and another 44.5% will shop three weeks to one month before school starts. Additionally, 4.3% will shop the week school starts, and 3.4% will start after the start of the school year.

There’s no question that today’s millennial high school students are unique in many ways, and when it comes to shopping, these kids 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, ensuring their style shines through all year long, with the average 13 – 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, totalling $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% of parents admit their child influences 100% of what they buy for back to school, up from 7.6% of parents last year and the highest in the survey’s history. Broken out by grade, 12.4% of parents with high school students say 100% of their purchases are influenced by their teenagers. Most parents (34.8%) say at least half of their back-to-school purchases are influenced by their children.

“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, director for consumer insights at Prosper Insights. “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.”

Men to outspend women

Compared to the average adult, men will reach deeper into their pockets for their children’s school needs this summer. According to the survey, men will spend an average $754.30 on school items, up 12% from last year. Women will spend an average of $588.80, down $11 from $599.30 last year. Additionally, 25-34 year olds will be the highest spending age group at $822.01, followed by 35-44 year olds ($716.78), 45-54 year olds ($694.83), and 18 – 24 year olds ($682.66).

Economy still affects Americans’ spending plans

Since 2009, NRF has been asking school shoppers about how the US economy will impact their spending plans, and while it’s evident the impact has lessened, eight in 10 (81.1%) Americans this year are still affected, up slightly from 80.5% last year. Specifically, more families will buy store brand/generic items for school (34% vs. 32.8% last year), 25.6% will make do with last year’s items, up from 23.7% last year, and 19.6% will shop online more often to save money, up from 18.5% last year and the highest percent seen.

Big year for shopping on mobile phones

As more Americans become comfortable with the notion of using their mobile devices to shop, families this summer are planning to turn to their handhelds to aid in their shopping. The survey found 36.7% of smartphone owners shopping for school items will research products using their mobile device, up from 34.7% last year and the highest since NRF started asking in 2011; one in five (21.8%) will make a purchase via their smartphone, up from 18.2% last year and another survey high. And while many will simply shop online directly through their smartphone, one-quarter (25.1%) will use their device to find information about a physical store.

School shoppers who own tablets will also use their device more to shop this summer; 31.4% will purchase school items via their tablet, up from 29.9% last year, and 45% will research products, up from 41.8% last year.

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