By  on July 17, 2014

Larger budgets for school supplies and electronics will hold increases in back-to-school apparel spending to a minimum this year.

That’s one of the findings of the National Retail Federation’s annual Back-to-School Survey measuring purchasing intentions among 6,178 respondents interviewed during the first week of July.

Extrapolating consumers’ responses, NRF projected that purchases for elementary, middle school and high school students will retreat 0.7 percent to $26.5 billion from $26.7 billion.

Spending by and for college students — a number that skews higher because of costs incurred by those living away from home — will expand 5.7 percent to $48.4 billion, from $45.8 billion last year.

Together, the two groups’ total b-t-s expenditures are expected to pick up 3.3 percent to $74.9 billion.

For the precollegiate set, purchases of apparel and accessories are expected to hit $231.30, an increase of 0.2 percent over the $230.85 budgeted last year. For the first time, NRF, using the services of Prosper Insights & Analytics, separated expenditures by the age of students and found $209.03 budgeted for apparel for elementary school children, $241.16 for middle school students and $245.44 for high school students.

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At the same time, expenditures on footwear are expected to average $124.46, up 8.8 percent from $114.39 last year, while spending on school supplies will increase 11.8 percent to $101.18 from $90.49 last year, and spending on electronics is seen expanding 6.7 percent to $212.35 from last year’s mark of $199.05.

The outlook for apparel spending is somewhat better for the college group, although the budgeted amounts are less. Apparel expenditures are expected to average $138.73, up 13.1 percent from last year, and those for footwear are budgeted at $77.60, 18.3 percent above the 2013 level.

NRF noted that a number of factors have worked against expanded b-t-s spending in the precollege group, including a drop in the number of children per household. A growing number of school districts are also asking students to provide more of their own supplies this year, hurting the apparel numbers even as footwear appears to be poised for a strong b-t-s push.

“It’s not a bad year, but it’s not one we will stand up and cheer about,” said Bill Thorne, senior vice president of communications and public affairs at NRF. “I would call it a longer-than-expected hangover. There are a lot of good signs about the economy, but people aren’t seeing it on the bottom line of their paychecks. If anything, people are happy just to have a paycheck.”

Thorne noted that many households are only now making purchases they’d put off in the aftermath of the economic downturn, automobiles and home improvement expenditures among them. “I think there’s a bit of an attitude of, ‘That’s nice, but I don’t know that I need to have it,’” he said. “There are things that students need for the first day of school and others that might get put off until holiday.”

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