College Students/​Families to Spend Average of $907 on Back-​to-​College Needs

NRF’s 2012 Back-​to-​College Survey conducted by BIGinsight found college students and their families will spend an average $907.22 on everything from dorm furniture and collegiate gear to school supplies and personal care items, up from $808.71 in 2011. Total spending for back-​to-​college is expected to reach $53.5 billion. 

According to the survey, eight in 10 (83.5%) back-​to-​college shoppers say the economy is impacting their spending plans, a trend also evident in NRF’s 2012 Back-​to-​School Survey. To compensate, more people this year will use the Internet to their advantage by doing more comparative shopping online (34.6% vs. 30.7%) and shopping online more often (20.5% vs. 18.8% last year.) More parents will also ask their children to make-​do with last year’s items (31.2% vs. 29.7% last year).

With fewer ‘needs’ than a typical grade-​school student, college students and their families are much more likely to look for ways to cut corners this summer as much of their costs come in the form of tuition and living arrangements,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “As the economy continues to play a role in Americans’ spending decisions, retailers will offer shoppers plenty of ways to save money both in their stores and on their websites, including bundles, free gifts and gift cards with their purchase and even free online shipping on school items, aiming to attract value-​focused back-​to-​college shoppers.”


The economy isn’t only impacting how people shop; it’s impacting where they shop. The survey found 15.1% of shoppers said they plan to use catalogs to buy their college items, up from 11.4% last year and just 8.3% the year prior. The Internet has helped the resurgence of both digital and paper catalogs among shoppers of all ages. Nearly one-​quarter (24.9%) of the average 25–34 year old will use catalogs to purchase school items.

Home furnishing stores, attractive to college students looking to invest in small appliances, bed and bath sets, will see a jump in traffic this year — 16.4% of back-​to-​college shoppers will head to a home furnishings or home décor store, up from 11.2% in 2011. College students and their families will also head to discount stores (51.9%), department stores (45.4%), drug stores (22.3%), office supplies stores (40.3%), clothing stores (34.8%), electronics stores (21.1%) and thrift stores (15.0%).

When it comes to how young adults and their parents tackle their college shopping list, nothing is off the table, especially now that catalogs are tablet and mobile-​ready,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “Some college students and their parents may be hesitant to commit to any purchase without having researched whether or not they are getting the best deal beforehand. This year every retailer could be a ‘winner’ as consumers will spread out their spending, leaving no retailer unturned.”


According to the survey, nearly three-​quarters (74.2%) of back-​to-​college shoppers will buy apparel and accessories, spending an average of $132.97, and 71.0%, the highest in the survey’s history, will buy new shoes, spending an average of $75.81. Electronics will also be popular with college students – 54.0% say they will buy a new computer, MP3 player, smartphone or other device, up from 45.8% last year, and will spend an average $216.40. College freshman, not surprisingly, will spend an average of $262.58 on electronics, the highest of any college level.

Shoppers will also spend on dorm furnishings ($100.27), food items ($100.18), personal care items ($81.76), school supplies ($75.73) and collegiate branded gear ($52.87). Mom and dad are also sending their child to school armed with gift cards – 37.9% of college shoppers are expected to spend an average of $71.23 on gift cards or pre-​paid cards, the most since 2009 when this category first appeared in the survey.

College students and their families, like parents with children in grades K‑12, will begin shopping earlier this year. Nearly one-​third (31.9%) are planning to start school shopping three weeks to one month before school starts, up from 28.9% last year. Nearly three in 10 (29.0%) say they will begin shopping at least two months before school starts, up from 24.4% who said so last year. Nine percent (9.2%) will start shopping after school starts.

Overall, college freshmen and their parents are expected to spend the most this year, spending an average of $929.35. Graduate students, preparing for life on their own or a career, will spend $879.89, followed by sophomores ($812.97), juniors ($767.41) and seniors ($680.70).

[Source:  "2012 Back-​to-​College Survey."  BIGinsight/​National Retail Federation (NRF).  19 July 2012.  Web.  23 July 2012.]