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Electronics, School Supplies Drive Increased Back-to-School/College Spending This year, According to NRF
Millennials to spend $913 Million of Own Money on School Items
WASHINGTON, July 17, 2014 – 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 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 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,” said 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.
“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.”
Parents ready to spend more on what’s needed; more plan to buy those items at specialty stores
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. 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 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.
While department and discount stores will be the most visited among school shoppers, millennial students** may be driving an increase in planned spending at specialty stores. 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%) 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.
For the first time, NRF asked school shoppers about their plans to shop at local/small businesses for their needs: 17.4 percent will support local/small retailer to buy school items.
Tweens, millennials to play a big role in back-to-school shopping this summer
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 percent last year; one in five (22.5%) will shop at least two months before school starts, and another 44.5 percent will shop three weeks to one month before school starts. Additionally, 4.3 percent will shop the week school starts, and 3.4 percent 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, 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. Broken out by grade, 12.4 percent of parents with high school students say 100 percent 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,” said Prosper Insights Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “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 plan to outspend women and increase budget over last year; Adult millennials to spend most on children in school
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 percent 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).
Six years later, economy still affecting Americans’ school spending plans
Since 2009 NRF has been asking school shoppers about how the U.S. 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 percent last year. Specifically, more families will buy store brand/generic items for school (34% vs. 32.8% last year), 25.6 percent will make do with last year’s items, up from 23.7 percent last year, and 19.6 percent will shop online more often to save money, up from 18.5 percent last year and the highest percent seen.
Big year for mobile back-to-school shoppers
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 percent of smartphone owners shopping for school items will research products using their mobile device, up from 34.7 percent 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 percent 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 that own tablets will also use their device more to shop this summer; 31.4 percent will purchase school items via their tablet, up from 29.9 percent last year, and 45 percent will research products, up from 41.8 percent last year.pecifically, 37.4 percent will research products, and 27 percent will use their tablet to purchase items.
Millennials and Their Families Eager to Stock Up for College
Like school shoppers, college families want supplies, electronics
Having a longer list of items to buy that are also commonly known to be pricier than their younger counterpart, college students and their families are the real “golden geese” when it comes to school shopping. NRF’s 2014 Back-to-College Survey found 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.
Combined college and school spending is expected to reach $74.9 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,” said 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.”
“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."
Like back-to-school shoppers, college shoppers to invest in supplies, electronics; more families than ever to shop online for items
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.)
Overall, broken out by grade, freshmen and their families will spend the most at an average of $908.69, followed by graduate students ($856.29), juniors ($791.08), sophomores ($670.89) and seniors ($567.52).
With an array of items to stock up on before classes start, parents will take their college students all over town to get the best deals. According to the survey, most (50.5%) will shop at discount stores, up from 48.3 percent last year, and department stores (46.6%), up from 42.7 percent last year. Online will be a popular destination for shoppers: more than two in five (44.6%) will check out retailers’ websites for special promotions, up from 37.1 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s history.
Others will shop at collegiate bookstores (41.9%), office supply stores (36.3%), and clothing stores (34%). Additionally, 13.2 percent will shop at small/local businesses.
Men will outspend women by a smidge
Usually the big spender when it comes to college shopping, men are no different this year. The survey found men will spend an average of $976.43 to get their dependent ready for college, up from $963.27 last year. Women will spend an average of $859.73, up significantly over last year’s $717.32.
Men won’t waste their time getting to the electronics store either: the survey found men will spend an average of $260.34 on shiny new gadgets, up from $227.06 last year. Not to be outdone, women will spend $228.12 on average, up from $180.81 last year.
Recognizing the benefits of end-of-season prices and promotions, parents of college students and the students themselves may be taking a cue from K-12th grade shoppers and planning to begin shopping later this summer. According to the survey, one-quarter (25.6%) will begin shopping one to two weeks before school starts, up from 19.9 percent last year. But there are still plenty of early-bird shoppers: nearly three in 10 (28.2%) will shop two months before school, and one-third (33.4%) will shop three weeks to one month before school. Fewer shoppers will go after school starts, perhaps knowing there will be less likely of a chance to get a hot item to show off to classmates (6.5% vs. 10.8% last year).
“College shoppers generally cannot take the kind of gamble their younger counterparts can by waiting until the last minute to buy what they need for school - especially given their timeframes to return to class or even make a big move across country - but this year, we are seeing that they too want to play the waiting game to see if deals are better later on,” said Goodfellow.
Online, mobile shopping to aid budget-focused college students and families in shopping efforts
For seven out of 10 (77.2%) college students and their families, the economy is a contributing factor to how, when, where and why they shop for college items. Though the findings are much lower than previous years when nearly 85 percent said the economy would impact their spending plans, families today are still making adjustments to ease the impact on their budgets.
The survey found one-third (33%) will do more comparative shopping online because of the economy, up from 31.7 percent last year, and 21 percent will shop online more often as a result, up from 18.6 percent last year and the highest in the six years NRF has been asking the question. Additionally, 10.1 percent said the economy is impacting students’ living situations, and 12 percent said the economy is impacting where students go to college (i.e. two-year versus four-year, closer to home, public versus private, etc.).
When it comes to mobile usage, nearly six in 10 (57.8%) will use their smartphone in some fashion as they shop for college items. Of those with smartphones, the survey found one-third (33.8%) will research products, the highest since NRF added mobile shopping questions to its survey in 2011. Additionally, one in five (22.4%) will purchase items, up from 19.1 percent last year and another survey high, and 29.8 percent will look up retailer information, up from 20.9 percent last year.
More than half (54.5%) of tablet owners will use their tablet to shop for college items. Specifically, 37.4 percent will research products, and 27 percent will use their tablet to purchase items.
About the survey
NRF’s 2014 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 6178 consumers was conducted July 1-8.The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points. The total spending figure is an extrapolation of U.S. adults 18 and older.
Prosper Insights and Analytics delivers executives timely, consumer-centric insights from multiple sources. As a comprehensive resource of information, Prosper represents the voice of the consumer and provides knowledge to marketers regarding consumer views on the economy, personal finance, retail, lifestyle, media and domestic and world issues. www.ProsperDiscovery.com
The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association. Based in Washington, D.C., NRF represents discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF.com
Historical data and top trends: Find all of NRF's back-to-school and back-to-college resources in one place.