Back-to-school survey

Our 11th annual survey takes a closer look at shopping trends for the upcoming back-to-school season. Spending is expected to reach $27.6 billion this year, with households planning to spend more than double in-store compared to online.

Back-to-school shopping trends

Back-to-school (B2S) season is the second-biggest shopping season of the year, with 29 million households across the United States planning to spend a total of $27.6 billion. To capitalize on this shopping sprint, retailers should consider taking a closer look at where consumers are planning to shop, what items they are planning to buy, and how digital will likely influence their decisions.

Download this year’s back-to-school report to learn more about shoppers’ preferences and how households are planning to divvy up their $510 average expected spend this season.

What to look for this year

This back-to-school season, consumers plan to turn to a variety of retailers to get their kids ready for the school year. But mass merchants remain the top shopping destination, with the vast majority of households (83 percent) planning to visit these retailers.

In-store shopping prevails
Average household planned spending remains fairly flat this year (up to $510 from $501 in 2017), with 57 percent of B2S spend planned to take place in-store. The opportunity for retailers? $5.5B is still up for grabs, as 20 percent of parents’ back-to-school spend is still undecided between online and in-store spend.

Shifting retail preferences
Mass merchants remain the top location for back-to-school shopping, with 83 percent of shoppers noting they plan to shop this format. While price-based retailers can expect a large percentage of shoppers, customers tend to spend more when they shop traditional retailers like department stores, home electronic stores, and office supply stores.

When we look a bit deeper into preferences across income levels, the trends are more nuanced; high-income households ($100K+ annual income) are more likely to shop retailers that offer premier products and experiences, while low-income households (<$50K) are more likely to shop retailers that sell at the lowest possible prices. This trend is very similar to what we found in our recent report, Great Retail Bifurcation where price-based and premier retailers outperformed their competitors, in part due to the changing consumer economic situation.

Timing matters
About two-thirds of shoppers (62 percent) plan to begin their back-to-school shopping before August, spending about $100 more than shoppers who get a later start. This presents an opportunity for retailers to focus their promotions from mid-July to mid-August, when $18B will likely be spent preparing for the school year.

The need for digital innovation
Over the last three years of back-to-school shopping, we’ve noticed that consumers may be reaching a digital saturation point. Mobile adoption has shown very minimal increases, and computer and social media usage have decreased by ~10 percentage points from 2016 to 2018. Customers are mainly using their devices to access websites, look for prices, and collect coupons and discounts—instead of actually making purchases. This could signal that shoppers are looking for the next innovation in retail technology.

Total planned B2S spend by region

Preferred retail formats by category

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