Shoppers to Boost Back-to-School Spending, NRF Says

Consumers said they will trim purchases elsewhere in order to buy the items needed for students heading back to class.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
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Family shopping back to school

Despite concerns about rising prices, consumers said they expect to spend more on back-to-school and back-to-college items this year, according to a new report from the National Retail Federation.

Total back-to-school spending is expected to match 2021’s record high of $37 billion. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school items, approximately $15 more than last year. Back-to-school spending has increased dramatically since the onset of the pandemic, as families adjusted to changes from virtual and hybrid learning. Compared to 2019, back-to-school shoppers are expected to spend $168 more on average, and total spending is up $11 billion.  

“Families consider back-to-school and college items as an essential category, and they are taking whatever steps they can, including cutting back on discretionary spending, shopping sales and buying store- or off-brand items, in order to purchase what they need for the upcoming school year,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF. “The back-to-school season is among the most significant shopping events for consumers and retailers alike, second only to the winter holiday season.” 

Total back-to-college spending is expected to reach nearly $74 billion, up from last year’s record of $71 billion and the highest in the survey’s history. More college students and their families plan to shop this year compared to last and anticipate spending an average of $1,199 on college or university items, consistent with last year’s record of $1,200. 

Since 2019, total expected spending on back-to-college has grown by $19 billion and consumers are spending $223 more on average than they were prior to the pandemic. Nearly half of this increase comes from spending on electronics and dorm or apartment furnishings. 

Like other recent holidays, shoppers are starting early to find the best deals and help spread out their budgets. As of early July, more than half (56%) of shoppers had started shopping for school and college supplies.  

Consumers may be even more motivated to get a jump start on their back-to-class shopping this year given the impact of inflation and higher prices. A majority (68%) of survey respondents said they have seen higher prices on school items. Clothing and accessories and school supplies were among the top areas where consumers have noticed higher prices. 

There is still plenty of shopping outstanding, with the vast majority (85%) of back-to-school and college families indicating they have at least half of their shopping remaining. 

Compared with their pre-pandemic habits, back-to-school and college shoppers plan to concentrate their shopping rather than spreading it out across multiple destinations.

The top five back-to-school shopping destinations are online (50%), department stores (45%), discount retailers (40%), clothing stores (37%) and electronics stores (28%).

Top back-to-college shopping destinations are online (43%), followed by department stores (36%), discount stores (29%), office supply stores (27%) and college bookstores (26%). 

The NRF survey of 7,830 consumers was conducted June 30-July 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points