Back-to-School Shopping Expected to Reach Record Levels

back to school shopping survey

Consumers are expected to spend record amounts for back-to-school and back-to-college shopping this year, according to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Back-to-school spending is expected to reach an unparalleled $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion last year and the previous high of $37.1 billion in 2021. Back-to-college spending is expected to hit $94 billion, about $20 billion more than last year’s record.

Matthew Shay
Matthew Shay

“Back-to-class shopping is one of the most important consumer shopping occasions of the year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Our research for 2023 shows American consumers are eager to jumpstart their back-to-school and college purchases early. Retailers have been preparing for months to ensure they are well stocked with essential items that families and students need for the school year.”

Since 2003, NRF has conducted a comprehensive survey on back-to-class shopping trends. This year’s research included 7,843 consumers and was fielded June 30-July 6 with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points. 

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Shopping in preparation for the first day of school is already well underway. As of early July, more than half (55 percent) of consumers who are buying for back-to-class said they have already started shopping. This is on par with last year, but is up from 44 percent in 2019, and is in line with the trend of consumers shopping earlier for major spending events. While consumers have started shopping early, as of early July, 85 percent said they still have at least half of their shopping left to do. 

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $890.07 on back-to-school items this year, approximately $25 more than last year’s record of $864.35 and a new high. 

This increase in expected spending is primarily driven by more demand for electronics, as 69 percent of back-to-school shoppers expect to buy electronics or other computer-related accessories this year, up from 65 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s history. Total spending on electronics is expected to reach a record $15.2 billion. As in past years, the top electronics consumers plan to purchase are laptops (51 percent), tablets (36 percent) and calculators (29 percent).  

College students and their families are expected to spend an average of $1,366.95 per person, up from $1,199.43 last year, and a new record from the previous record of $1,200.32 in 2021. Since 2019, back-to-college spending has nearly doubled.

Forty-three percent of those who are spending more than last year say it is because they need more new items, up from 32 percent last year. Another third (32 percent) attribute it to needing more big-ticket items such as a computer, phone, calculator, or dorm furnishings. Spending on big-ticket items such as electronics and furnishings as well as necessities like food accounts for more than half of the increase in total back-to-college spending this year. 

For all back-to-class shoppers, the top destinations are online, department stores, and discount stores. 

“Even though consumers plan to spend more on school and college-related items this year, they are still looking to find the best value and deals,” said Prosper Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist. “Consumers are stretching their dollars by comparing prices, considering off-brand, or store-brand items, and are more likely to shop at discount stores than last year.”

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