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Top Trends for the $27-30 Billion Back-to-school Season

Here’s what to expect from this year’s back-to-school season. Rosy estimates place retail sales at their highest levels yet.

This year’s K-12 back-to-school season is expected to generate $27 billion in retail sales in the U.S., according to Deloitte. The season alone is estimated to generate 50% of all school-related spending for the year by 29 million households.

Estimates from the National Retail Federation (NRF) pin back-to-school spending at $29.5 billion. Combined with back-to-college spending, that figure rises to $83.6 billion for 2017—a 10% increase from last year and record high.

What to Buy?

Most of the K-12 back-to-school budget is earmarked for apparel and electronics.

The NRF says that families with kids in K-12 plan to spend an average of $687.72 each in 2017, an 8% increase from last year’s $27.3 billion. Breaking that up, shoppers will spend a combined $10.2 billion on clothing (95% plan to buy); $8.8 billion on electronics such as computers or calculators (60%); $5.6 billion on shoes (93%); and $4.9 billion on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes (97%; multiple responses allowed). While overall spending on each category will increase, NRF identifies the top growth in the shoes and school supplies categories.

More specifically, Deloitte identifies that individual families will spend, on average, $307 on computers and hardware (23% plan to buy), $284 on clothing and accessories (97%), $254 on electronic gadgets (18%), and $104 on school supplies (98%; multiple responses allowed). About 30% plan to buy pre-configured school supply kits, and these shoppers will spend an average 40% more than others ($628).

So what’s behind the electronics figures? According to the NRF, among electronics shoppers, 45% plan to buy a laptop computer, an equal number—35%—a tablet and a calculator. One in four plan to purchase electronic accessories such as a mouse, flash drive, or charger.

Deloitte estimates that the greatest spending among electronics is for the purchase of a new computer ($428), followed by cell phones ($222), tablets and e-readers ($174), wearable technology ($150), and a printer or other computer hardware ($149).

Where to Buy?

The NRF states that most consumers plan to buy K-12 back-to-school supplies in department stores (57.1%), followed by discount stores (54.1%), clothing stores (46%), online (45.5%), office supply stores (35.6%), and electronics stores (24.6%; multiple responses allowed).

Meanwhile, Deloite reports greater activity in mass and off-price for the season. Mass merchants lead with 81% (up 24% from 2016), followed by dollar stores (40%), online-only retailers (36%), office supply/technology stores (33%; down 9%), off-price stores (28%; up 18%), and traditional department stores (28%; down 26%).

Although most families prefer to shop in-store at brick-and-mortar locations—57% of purchases will be made online, according to Deloitte, and 45.5% of shoppers will go online, according to the NRF—the distribution channel is growing.

According to Deloitte, 57% of shoppers will make purchases on their desktops or laptops, 49% on mobile, and 22% on tablets. Electronic gadgets (31%) and computers and hardware (33%) purchases are more likely to be made online. Most school supplies (66%) and clothing and accessories (63%) purchases will be made in-store. An estimated 22% are still undecided if they will shop in-store rather than online, according to Deloitte.

The most important factors in deciding whether or not to buy online? Free shipping—90.5% of back-to-school shoppers will utilize the feature among NFR respondents, and 68% of Deloitte respondents plan to buy from eretailers that offer the option. In-store pickup is a less important, but critical factor with over half of respondents across both surveys identifying it (54% NRF; 52% Deloitte). According to the NRF, women are more likely to shop online and use in-store pickup, while men are more likely to opt for expedited shipping.

When to Buy?

Among undecided shoppers, 65% of Deloitte respondents plan to shop at different points throughout the summer to take advantage of deals. Overall, 60% of shoppers plan to begin buying before August, with 11% starting earlier than July. The early birds are expected to spend 16% more than those who wait. Most (62%) will go shopping in late July or early August. Around 71% of spending will occur in the eight-week shopping period between early July and late August.

The figures jibe with the NRF’s findings, which show that most shoppers (46.7%) plan to shop three weeks to one month before school starts. Twenty-seven percent are early birds, planning to begin at least two months before school starts.


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