Report: Families Slower to Buy Back-to-School Gear This Year

With an eye out for deals, families have been holding back on their back-to-school spending for both grade-schoolers and college students, according to a National Retail Federation analysis. Discount stores are still leading brick-and-mortar retailers, but college students are leaping toward online shopping.

Sorry, retailers: Parents are a little slow on the back-to-school-shopping front this year.

That’s according to a new analysis by the National Retail Federation (NRF), which found that just under half of all families (49.9 percent, to be exact) had finished back-to-school shopping as of August 12. That’s down from 52.1 percent in the same survey last year.

What’s more, nearly a quarter of all parents (23.6 percent) had failed to do any back-to-school shopping by that date, up from 20.9 percent last year.

So why the delay? NRF says many parents are holding out for a deal—whether from the stores (coupons are big spending drivers, according to the survey) or from Uncle Sam.

“As the shopping season draws to a close, budget-conscious parents are likely hoping that end-of-summer sales and promotions will be just what they need to wrap up their school lists,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Much of the delay this summer could also stem from families holding out for a sales-tax holiday in their state, as well as from influential teenagers who want to first see what their friends are buying before they ask Mom and Dad to commit to their fall needs.”

What and Where They’re Buying

If you’re shopping for a college student, odds are good that you’re going online to purchase the items on your list. According to the survey, 37.4 percent of respondents shopping for college indicated they will buy some of their academic supplies over the internet, the most ever recorded by the survey and significantly above K-12 students (24.8 percent).

However, online purchasing still doesn’t hold a candle to the old standby—the discount store. According to the study, 54 percent of back-to-school shoppers and 47.4 percent of back-to-college shoppers will buy from discount stores, topping every other option, including department stores, clothing stores, and office-supply stores.

Electronics are likely to have a good run: In a report earlier this month, NRF revealed that average spending on electronics is expected to be $212 for K-12 students and $243 for college students. NRF notes that 16.4 percent of parents of K-12 students and 18.2 percent of parents whose kids are in college are basing 100 percent of their electronics purchases on the technology requirements of the school or of particular courses.

But one place where K-12 and college students differ is in the fashion department. Although parents spend an average of $231 on clothes for grade-schoolers, those in college will spend just $139.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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