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Consumer Trends

Families plan to spend more for back to school and college this year

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For the average parent with school and college-age children, summer months can mean free help around the house and family vacations. It can also mean summer camps and babysitters, pool parties and, of course, back-to-school and college shopping.

Last year, our back-to-school survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics found that nearly one-quarter of families were shopping at least two months before school started. Though the ink on this year’s report cards hasn’t even had a chance to dry, many parents are already shopping for the next school year.

We recently polled more than 6,400 adults with children in K-12 and college and found 29 percent of households with school-age kids (6-17) plan to spend more than last year for back to school, compared with nearly 24 percent who said the same thing this time last year. As for college students and their families, nearly three in 10 plan to spend more this summer, up from 23 percent who said they’d be spending more when we asked the same question last year.

Spending Plans For Back to School 2015 Shopping Season
Charts from the NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center. To access this data and more research please visit the Retail Insight Center.
Spending Plans For Back to College 2015 Shopping Season
Charts from the NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center. To access this data and more research please visit the Retail Insight Center.

While this is survey is a mere snapshot in time, the positive uptick in planned spending means that retailers’ back-to-school season — second only to the winter holidays in terms of foot traffic and sales — could bring a welcome boost in sales after a disappointing first half of the year.

Regardless of their spending plans this summer, the economy is still top of mind for some families, especially when it comes to making sure their children have what they need for the school year. 

Among those who say the economy will impact their back-to-school and college spending plans, 32 percent of college shoppers plan to comparison shop online to make sure they get the best bang for their buck, up from nearly 28 percent last year. More than 31 percent of school shoppers will compare prices online, compared with nearly 30 percent last year.

Retailers are using social media and other online promotions to reach millions of parents already shopping for back to school. West Elm is highlighting its student and teacher discounts on Instagram:

Gap.com promotes school uniforms

Gap is putting the “cool in school” with improved uniform staples.

Amazon.com promotes school supply lists

And Amazon is encouraging K-12 teachers to create customized supply lists with its school list sweepstakes.

Stay tuned for the release of our official 2015 consumer spending survey in mid-July. Until then, you’ll find all of NRF’s historical spending data and 2014 resources in our Back-to-School Headquarters.

Planned BTS Spending - In Billions (July 2014)
Charts from the NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center. To access this data and more research please visit the Retail Insight Center.
Planned BTC Spending - In Billions (July 2014)
Charts from the NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center. To access this data and more research please visit the Retail Insight Center.

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Historical data and top trends: Find all of NRF's back-to-school and back-to-college resources in one place.