Survey: Families stock up for back to school after tightening belts last year

Families that decided to get another year’s use out of backpacks and laptops during last summer’s back-to-school shopping season are ready to reopen their wallets, according to a National Retail Federation survey released Thursday.

An average family with children in the elementary to high school range will spend about $673.57 on back-to-school items including clothing, electronics and other supplies, up nearly 7 percent from last fall.

Total back-to-school spending is expected to hit $27.3 billion this year. Add in school-related spending by families with college students, and the figure rises to $75.8 billion, up from $68 billion the year before.

Average household back-to-school spending has grown over the past decade, but often rises and falls as families stock up one year, then cut back as they get a second year out of longer-lasting purchases, said Ellen Davis, the retail trade group’s senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives, on a media call discussing the survey results

The $673.57 figure is up from $630.36 last year but only slightly tops the $669.28 the average family planned to spend in 2014, according to the NRF.

“The jeans might be too tight this year and the glue sticks might be dry and it’s time for a new iPad. That means a lot of families are going to be heading to the stores and online for back to school,” Davis said.

Families also may be feeling a little more confident about the economy, encouraging them to spend a little more, said Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist, on the call.

An increase in the number of shoppers with students going to college, who typically need more big-ticket items than families with younger children, helped boost overall school-related spending even as the amount the average family with college students planned to spend, $888.71, dipped slightly from last year, according to the trade group.

An increase in spending on electronics for younger students could be driving some of the growth in back-to-school spending as college spending stayed relatively flat, Davis said.

“Ten years ago, you saw a lot of college freshmen making big electronics purchases,” she said. “Now you’re seeing it shift to younger grades.”

Shoppers also said they’re planning to start back-to-school shopping earlier this year to spread out their budgets. There was a 10 percent increase in the percentage of families doing back-to-school shopping online, but discount stores are still the most popular choice, followed by department stores and clothing stores, according to the survey.

The survey, conducted for the NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics, polled 6,809 consumers for a week in late June and early July.

July 21, 2016

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