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Back-to-school

Licensed 2019 Back-to-School Goods Projected to Dip -1.0% in Sales for U.S. & Canada

Contact the editor at karina@plainlanguagemedia.com

Licensed retail sales of back-to-school products are showing signs of dramatic slowdown in the U.S. & Canada as millions of students begin the school year. Last year, licensed back-to-school sales totaled $11.83 billion for K-12 and college students, according to The Licensing Letter.

This year, licensed back-to-school retail sales are expected to slide -1.0% to reach $11.72 billion in the U.S. & Canada. Most of the trends in the general market carry over to licensed goods, with some exceptions.

For example, the National Retail Federation (NRF) projections peg total spending on back-to-school at $80.7 billion in 2019, down from last year’s $82.8 billion (-2.5%). The decline is largely because of the decreased number of households with children in elementary through high school; per-household spending actually topped a record $696.70 for K-12 families and $976.78 for those with college students.

Deloitte data, on the other hand, shows a -0.7% slip from last year’s $28.0 billion back-to-school forcast to $27.8 billion in 2019. The research firm predicts that there will be a 29% increase in spending on electronics and gadgets this season for a total of $800 million in the total market category.


Within licensed back-to-school goods, much of the declines can be attributed to fewer students, with per-student spending remaining stable.

Apparel and accessories sales are estimated to make up a combined 50.9% share of all back-to-school sales in 2019. Licensed apparel sales are expected to go down -1.8% in 2019 to reach $3.68 billion. In most cases, families seem to be adjusting their clothing purchases to fall outside of the back-to-school season to match tight budgetary concerns. For the full-year 2019, TLL does not expect dramatic declines in the apparel category for the K-12 and college student groups.

At $2.29 billion in expected sales, accessories is the second-largest category behind only apparel. Much of the growth in sales during the back-to-school period can be attributed to backpacks, purses, and luggage, but there are also many purchases in wearables and cold weather accessories tied to apparel.

While traditionally the back-to-school season has been a particularly strong period for footwear, in recent years spending in the category has spread out over the year. In this way, there has been less emphasis by families to buy during this season, versus later or earlier in the year. However, sales remain stable despite market trends and were up 0.2% to reach $1.14 billion.

Spending on stationery slightly readjusted to fall -0.7% to $0.58 billion based on the shrinking number of students. Despite the growing reliance of students on laptop computers, tablets, and other consumer electronic devices, sales paper products nevertheless continue to dominate among those in the market. As well as notebooks, pencils, and pens, other significant purchases in the category include classic and DIY planners and calendars, which are seeing a resurgence among Millennials and Gen Z students.

Spending on consumer electronics is expected to go up 1.0% to hit $800 million, with significant growth areas including electronic accessories as well as mobile phones and laptops. For students, calculators are also a significant growth category in the back-to-school season, albeit a small share of licensed sales.

Within the “other” product category slice, notable categories include housewares (especially for lunch boxes, tumblers, etc.), publishing (novels and study aids), and domestics and home furnishings (especially for college-bound freshmen staying in dorms). For younger K-12 students, toys is also a significant, if falling, category.

Retail Sales of Licensed Back-to-school Goods, by Product Category, U.S. & Canada, 2018–2019
Note: *2019 figures are preliminary projections and subject to change. Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Billions)
Product Category Retail Sales, 2019* Retail Sales, 2018 Change, 2018–2019* Share, 2019*
Apparel $3.68 $3.75 -1.8% 31.4%
Accessories $2.29 $2.31 -1.2% 19.5%
Footwear $1.14 $1.14 0.2% 9.7%
Stationery $0.58 $0.58 -0.7% 4.9%
Consumer Electronics $0.81 $0.80 1.0% 6.9%
Gifts/Novelties $0.31 $0.32 -2.0% 2.6%
Other $2.91 $2.93 -0.8% 24.9%
Total $11.72 $11.83 -1.0% 100.0%

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