Parents intend to spend about 3.9 percent more on back-to-school, with an anticipated average spend of $675, versus $650 in 2015, according to the 22nd annual survey conducted by Brand Keys, the New York-based brand loyalty and emotional engagement research consultancy.

The survey included assessments from 7,580 households drawn from the nine U.S. Census regions from July 29 through Aug. 12.

When respondents were asked to explain why they’re planning only a small increase in b-t-s purchases, nearly 75 percent of them attributed it to “uncertainty,” “anxiety” and “unpredictability,” with only 18 percent citing “the economy.” When pressed to explain the causes of these feelings, consumers cited the upcoming presidential elections (58 percent), income/wealth distribution (47 percent), crime and violence (44 percent), unemployment (30 percent), race relations (22 percent) and a general feeling of insecurity related to tourism (19 percent).

“Apparently it’s not just consumer confidence in the economy. It’s a lot more than that,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys. He said that average consumer anticipated spending in all major b-t-s categories — with the exception of the tech category — “where the replacement cycle has kicked in,” was generally unchanged versus a year ago. But there were some slight increases. Clothing’s anticipated spend is $278, up 3 percent. The shoe category (athletic and dress), is estimated at $125, up 5 percent, and supplies at $92, up 2 percent. The anticipated spend for computers, electronics, tablets and smartphones is $180, up 20 percent, and books and study aids is $20, down 10 percent.

According to Passikoff, parents are taking a harder look at what their children (pre-school through 12th grade) need for b-t-s, “but there’s no way to get around children’s growth spurts or the need for technological upgrades.”

The survey also asked parents what’s the “preferred” retail platform versus last year. The biggest increases in where they intend to buy appeared to be department stores, up 10 percent, and office supplies, up 5 percent. “Department stores have been battling the consumer shift to online with lots of deals,” Passikoff said.

Catalogues were down in mentions. “Consumer purchases have been shifting from print to digital and online has been growing every year and has become consumers’ shopping default mode,” he said. Virtually every consumer interviewed (99 percent) indicated they were using online for their b-t-s needs.

According to the survey, the top venues for b-t-s shopping were:

• Online, 99 percent (up 4 percent)

• Discount stores, 98 percent (down 1 percent)

• Department stores, 65 percent (up 10 percent)

• Specialty retailers, 50 percent (down 5 percent)

• Office supply, 40 percent (up 5 percent)

• Catalogues, 7 percent (down 13 percent)

This year, Brand Keys’ top 10 list of the most popular brick-and-mortar retailers for b-t-s were in order:

• Wal-Mart

• Target

• CVS/Walgreen’s

• Best Buy


• TJ Maxx


• Sears

• Footlocker

• Staples

For e-tail, the top 10 list of where consumers plan to shop for b-t-s were:











For brick-and-mortar stores, Apple stores was pushed to number 11. Wal-Mart moved into the number-one spot ahead of Target, which was number one last year. Macy’s fell from number three to five.

For e-tail brands, came in at number three, reflecting the shift in shopping from brick-and-mortar stores to digital, and replaced in this year’s top 10.

Furthermore, about 55 percent of consumers said they had already stockpiled necessities and supplies for the first day of school before August, up 18 percent over last year. Some 30 percent said they would wait for summer sales to do their shopping. The remaining 15 percent are waiting until the last minute. “Retailers have spent nearly two decades teaching consumers they can get things cheaper or for better value if they wait a little longer, and when it comes to back-to-school, consumers have been fast learners,” Passikoff said.