BTS Shoppers Spending Slightly More This Year

Driven by increased demand for electronic items and parents’ need to restock their children’s school supplies from last year, families this summer will spend slightly more on back-​to-​school items than last year. According to NRF’s 2014 Back-​to-​School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average family with children in grades K‑12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent from $634.78 last year. Total spending on back to school will drop slightly to $26.5 billion as the survey found there are slightly fewer students in households this summer.

Combined spending for back to school and college is expected to reach $74.9 billion.

Slow improvements in the economy may have contributed to the growth in confidence among back-​to-​school shoppers, and while we are encouraged by the overall tone of the results and expect to see continued improvement in consumer spending through the year, we know Americans are still grappling with their purchase decisions every day,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Throughout the history of this survey, spending has fluctuated based on family needs each year, and this summer, we expect parents to continue to use caution, but also make smart decisions for their family budget that is a good balance between what their children ‘want’ and what they actually need.”

NRF this year broke out spending by grade, and according to the survey, families with high school students will spend the most. The survey found the average family shopping for high school students will spend $682.99, while spending on middle school/​junior high comes in a close second at $682.13. Parents with elementary school-​age children will spend an average of $580.94.


Overall, every category will see an increase in spending, including healthy increases in average spend on supplies and electronics. According to the survey, back-​to-​school shoppers will spend an average $212.35 on electronic items, up 7 percent from $199.05 last year, with total spend expected to reach $8.4 billion. High school students and their families specifically will spend an average $229.88 on electronic items.

Perhaps due to school districts’ growing requests for classroom supply contributions, spending on school supplies will increase 12 percent to an average of $101.18, compared to $90.49 last year. Additionally, shoppers will spend an average of $231.30 on clothes, up from $230.85, and $124.46 on shoes, up from $114.39 in 2013.

While department and discount stores will be the most visited among school shoppers, millennial students** may be driving an increase in planned spending at specialty stores. The survey found 53.8 percent of back-​to-​school shoppers will shop a clothing store, up from 51.5 percent last year and a survey high; 27.5 percent will shop at electronics stores, up from 25.9 percent last year and another survey high. Six in 10 (64.4%) will visit discount stores, 59.1 percent will shop at their favorite department store, 42 percent will shop at office supply stores, 38.2 percent will shop online, and 20.5 percent will shop at drug stores.

For the first time, NRF asked school shoppers about their plans to shop at local/​small businesses for their needs: 17.4 percent will support local/​small retailer to buy school items.


As seen in recent years, early-​bird shoppers are once again leading the charge for school shopping, but some parents and their children this year will wait until the dog days of summer to tackle their school lists, continuing the game of cat and mouse with retailers. According to the survey, one-​quarter (25.4%) will take advantage of retailers’ late summer deals and shop one to two weeks before school, up from 21.8 percent last year; one in five (22.5%) will shop at least two months before school starts, and another 44.5 percent will shop three weeks to one month before school starts. Additionally, 4.3 percent will shop the week school starts, and 3.4 percent will start after the start of the school year.

There’s no question that today’s millennial high school students are unique in many ways, and when it comes to shopping, these kids want to make sure they are a part of their parents’ buying decisions. According to the survey, teenagers are planning to spend $913 million of their own money on school items, ensuring their style shines through all year long, with the average 13 – 17 year old planning to spend an average of $34.40, up from $30.13 last year. Pre-​teens will spend an average $22.27 of their own money, totaling $544 million.

And, when it comes to the influence these students have on their parents’ purchasing decisions, the evidence is indisputable. The survey found 9.7 percent of parents admit their child influences 100 percent of what they buy for back to school, up from 7.6 percent of parents last year and the highest in the survey’s history. Broken out by grade, 12.4 percent of parents with high school students say 100 percent of their purchases are influenced by their teenagers. Most parents (34.8%) say at least half of their back-​to-​school purchases are influenced by their children.

It’s safe to say this generation takes back-​to-​school shopping much more serious than their older brothers and sisters did, with many kids today influencing almost everything their parents buy for the upcoming school year,” said Prosper Insights Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “Students will make sure to keep one eye on social media and the other on retailers’ websites as they seek out what’s new and exciting in their hunt for fresh, fashionable and relevant back-​to-​school gear.”

At least 63.4% of Back to School shoppers prefer to shop at a locally-​owned business if price and product are the same.  And, 80% of these shoppers don't mind paying more for quality products. Not surprisingly, this audience over-​indexes for the intended purchase of a laptop or computer. Retailers may want to target these consumers with mobile smartphone apps or text messages.  About 29% of these consumers have taken action as a result of these types of ads in the last 30 days, a rate that is 45% higher than average.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the Audience Intelligence Reports in AdMall.

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.