A look at what’s left for back-to-class shopping

Why consumers are taking the time to find the best value on the items they need 
Research Analyst
Back-to-school data

Explore consumer spending, key trends, historical data and NRF insights at our Back-to-School Headquarters.

The first day of class is only days or weeks away for many, and consumers of all ages are still prepping for the school year. We already know consumers are planning to spend at record levels this back-to-class season, but as the season comes to a close, how are people finishing up their preparations for the start of classes? Read on for more trends from NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics to get a glimpse into the back-to-class shopping home stretch. 

Wait, consumers are still shopping?

Back-to-class shoppers know the early bird gets the worm.  This year, more shoppers than ever had started picking up the items they would need to fill their backpacks by early July. But even with the early start, consumers are planning on shopping all the way up to the last minute. In fact, one of the top reasons consumers give for getting a head start on their back-to-school or college shopping is that they want to spread out their budgets. With consumers spending more than ever on back-to-class items, it makes sense they would want to take their time and make sure they’re finding the best value on the items they need. 



About half of those shopping for students in elementary through high school plan to make their last purchase at least a week or two before school starts, and 20% plan to do so in the week leading up to the start of classes. And college shoppers are even more likely to wait on making their last purchase, with 13% saying they’ll do so after school starts. 

So, what’s left on their lists? 

Students and their families are still perusing the aisles for notebooks and pencils, plus outfits for the first day and more. In line with past years, as of early August, back-to-school and college shoppers had about half of their shopping left to do. And as consumers are making their final back-to-class purchases, retailers are helping out any way they can. Office Depot and Best Buy are providing tips and checklists to help students out with their shopping, while Dormify and The Container Store partnered to help college students deck out their dorms.



Students of all ages still have school supplies and clothing and accessories at the top of their lists, but plenty of them are still in the market for bigger-ticket items as well. More than a quarter of back-to-school shoppers and 34% of college students have yet to cross their electronics purchases off their list. Not only this, almost a quarter of college shoppers are still looking for dorm or apartment furnishings for the school year.

What are the can't-miss items?

Electronics are just as much an essential back-to-class item as backpacks, notebooks and lunch boxes. Back-to-school shoppers say 51% of their spending on electronics is influenced by classroom lists or school requirements, similar to 52% of college students saying the same. And a quarter of consumers planning to spend more on back-to-class shopping this year say they are doing so because they need more big-ticket items such as computers, phones, calculators or furnishings. 



But more spending doesn’t mean more borrowing — more shoppers say they plan to use debit cards for their back-to-class shopping than they have in the past. Half of college shoppers and 53% of back-to-school shoppers plan to use debit cards, compared to 41% and 45% last year, respectively. 



For more insights into how consumers are getting ready for school, check out NRF’s back-to-class headquarters.

Related content

Back-to-school takes a serious twist at Barnes & Noble College stores
Two women having a conversation at Barnes and Noble College Store
President Jonathan Shar discusses how to connect with Gen Z shoppers.
Read more
Retail Sales Rose Sharply in July
default image
Retail sales reversed a downward trend in July as Prime Day and promotions by other brands prompted increased shopping.
Read more