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College students to boost back-to-school spending to all-time high


An uptick in college student enrollment will give a big boost to retailers' second biggest shopping season.

Combined back-to-school and back-to-college spending is projected to reach $83.6 billion, up more than 10% from last year’s $75.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics.

Back-to-school shopping is expected to start early this. Of consumers shopping for college, 32% will start two months before school, up from 26% last year. And only 21% will leave shopping until the last week or two before school starts, down from 25% last year. Of those shopping early, 64% are trying to spread out their budgets, 41% don’t want to miss sales and 37% want to avoid crowds.

More families will tackle their back-to-school lists for grade school and high school early this year with 27% beginning two months before the beginning of school, up from 22% last year. But not all shoppers are early birds, 21% will wait until the last week or two before school starts, about the same as last year’s 22%.

Here is how the survey breaks out by the two different groups:

College Spending

College students and their families plan to spend an average of $969.88, up from last year’s $888.71. Total spending expected to be $54.1 billion, up from $48.5 billion last year and surpassing 2012’s record of $53.5 billion. The increase in spending is driven, in part, to growing college enrollment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment has steadily increased over the last five years and is projected to reach nearly 21 million this fall.

College consumers plan to spend $12.8 billion on electronics (purchased by 51%), $8.0 billion on clothing (78%), $7.5 billion on snacks and other food items (75%), $5.9 billion on dorm/apartment furnishings (51%), $4.5 billion on shoes (72%), and $4.5 billion on personal care items (78%).

They also plan to spend $3.9 billion on school supplies (88%), $3.9 billion on gift cards (40%) and $3.2 billion on branded collegiate gear (56%). As to what type of electronics they will be buying, the survey found 61% plan to purchase a laptop, 28% a tablet, 26% an electronic accessory, 24% a calculator and 21% a smartphone/cell phone.

When it comes to where college consumers will shop, 44% will go online, 40% to discount stores, 39% to department stores, 34% to college bookstores and 29% to office supply stores.

School-Age Spending

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $687.72 each, for a total of $29.5 billion, an 8 percent increase from last year’s $27.3 billion. Total spending is the second-highest in the history of the survey following a peak of $30.3 billion in 2012.

According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend $10.2 billion on clothing (purchased by 95% of respondents), $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%). Consumers plan to spend more across all categories, with shoes and school supplies seeing the highest expected increase.

As to what types of electronics they plan to purchase, among electronics shoppers, 45% said they would buy a laptop computer while more than a third plan to purchase a tablet (35%) or a calculator (35%). One in four plan to purchase electronic accessories such as a mouse, flash drive or charger.

When it comes to where parents will buy, they are shopping across a variety of retailers; 57% will shop at department stores, 54% at discount stores, 46% each at clothing stores and online, and 36% at office supply stores.

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