Back-to-school spending to decline

Retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have gone all out this year to bring BTS shoppers to their stores.

The back-to-school and college shopping season is in full swing -- but retailers may not be getting the sales they expect.

According to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics annual survey report, the predicted total spending for K-12 students and college combined is expected to decline to $82.8 billion, which is lower than last year’s $83.6 billion and surprising given the booming economy.

This year’s survey consisted of 7,320 consumers, who were asked about both back-to-school and back-to-college plans. The survey was conducted between June 29-July 8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

“With the economy thriving thanks to tax reform and growing consumer confidence, we expect to see a very strong season,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “College spending is expected to be at its highest level ever, and back-to-school will be one of the three highest years on record.”

Retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have gone all out this year to bring BTS shoppers to their stores.

Walmart integrated the resource TeacherLists into a dedicated online destination called School Supplies List that enabled parents to find and shop for their child’s specific classroom supply list on Amazon has opted for consumer convenience by launching two back-to-school category landing pages on its e-commerce site at and The e-commerce giant also started its back-to-school deals early for consumers wanting to get an early start.

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $685 each, compared with last year’s $688 for a total of $28 billion. That’s the third-highest total in the history of the survey following a peak of $30 billion in 2012 and last year’s $30 billion.
Those with young people heading to college as well as college and graduate students purchasing for themselves plan to spend an average $942 each, down from last year’s $970 for a total of $55 billion. That’s an all-time high in the history of the survey, up from last year’s previous record of $54 billion.

According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend the most on clothing ($237). In addition to apparel, back-to-school shoppers also plan to spend:

  • $187 on electronics such as computers, calculators or phones
  • $139 on shoes
  • $122 on supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes

“The biggest change we are seeing in back-to-school spending this year is coming from electronics,” NRF Vice President for Research Mark Mathews said. “Items like laptops, tablets and smartphones are now an everyday part of household life and aren’t necessarily a purchase parents save for the start of the school year, resulting in the slight decrease in spending for this category.”

Unlike back-to-schoolers, college shoppers will spend the most on electronics ($229.21). Besides electronics, they also plan to spend:

  • $153 on clothing and accessories
  • $109 on dorm or apartment furnishings
  • $103 on food
  • $83 on shoes
  • $79 on personal care items such as skin and hair care
  • $69 on school supplies such as notebooks and backpacks
  • $63 on gift cards
  • $53 on collegiate branded gear

“College shoppers are prioritizing and increasing their spending budgets in essential categories including clothing, furnishings and shoes,” Mathews said. “However, categories such as personal care items, gift cards and food saw a dip this year. Although consumers will still spend on these categories, they may plan to make purchases as needed throughout the school year rather than stocking up for the entire semester.”

The top destinations for consumers shopping for back-to-school items are:

  • Department stores (57 percent)
  • Online retailers (55 percent)
  • Discount stores (52 percent)
  • Clothing stores (51 percent)
  • Office supply stores (35 percent)

Similarly, the most popular shopping destinations for back-to-college consumers are:

  • Online retailers (49 percent)
  • Department stores (40 percent)
  • Discount stores (35 percent)
  • Office supply stores (31 percent)
  • College bookstores (30 percent)

To read the entire survey report, click here