Kids looking for their parents to pull out the stops on back-to-school expenses are likely to be in for a disappointment this year.
Parents appear to have worked their way passed their greatest fears about the nation’s economy and their own finances, but they’ll be keeping a tight rein on b-t-s spending this year, with the average family reducing school-related expenses by 5.8 percent to $630.36 from $669.28 a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Back-to-School Spending Survey, conducted for the trade group by Prosper Insights & Analytics.
Overall spending for the period is expected to drop 6.3 percent to $24.87 billion from $26.54 billion in 2014, according to the survey of consumer buying intentions to be released today. Apparel and accessories expenditures per family are seen dropping 5.8 percent to $217.82 from $231.3 while footwear is projected to be down 5.5 percent to $117.56.
The pullback doesn’t appear to be a reflection of shaky consumer confidence or concerns about geopolitics, although traces of concern about the economy persist. Nearly a quarter — 23.6 percent of respondents — said their plans for b-t-s spending wouldn’t be affected by the state of the U.S. economy, up from 18.9 percent last year and the highest reading since the question was included in the survey in 2009.
Among those with continuing concern about the economy, the most popular strategies for saving money were “shopping for sales more often” (40.6 percent but down from 46.2 percent a year ago) and “doing more comparative shopping online” (up to 30.7 percent from 30.5 percent in 2014).
“As seen over the last 13 years, spending on back-to-school has consistently fluctuated based on children’s needs each year, and it’s unlikely most families would need to restock and replenish apparel, electronics and suppliers every year,” commented Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of NRF. “Parents this summer will inventory their children’s school supplies and decide what is needed and what can be reused, which just makes good budgeting sense for families with growing children.”
Shay said he remained confident that “economic growth and consumer spending will improve after a shaky first half of the year.”
The growth of smart devices has contributed to a greater propensity among b-t-s shoppers to put off purchases until the last moment before the school year’s opening bell, or even afterward. The percentage who said they’d begin their shopping at least two months before schools open was 19.6 percent, down from 22.5 percent a year ago, and the large block of those starting the process three weeks to a month prior to the start of classes fell to 42.8 percent from 44.5 percent. Those starting to purchase a week or two before schools open expanded to 30.3 percent from 25.4 percent last year. Among those opting to start at least two months before, the most popular responses in a “check all that apply” question were spreading out the shopping budget (64.9 percent), avoiding crowds (51.1 percent), that prices and promotions were simply too good to pass up (45.3 percent), a tendency to shop for the school season year-round (34.5 percent) and “to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping” (30.5 percent). More than one in five — 21.5 percent — were reluctant to miss out on popular merchandise by waiting too long to buy.
NRF queried shoppers for the first time about their plans to use the various omnichannel tools available to them. More than nine of 10 — 92.1 percent — checked off “free shipping,” 48.4 percent favored “buy-online-pick-up-in-store or ship to store,” 17.3 percent liked “expedited shipping“ and 10.2 percent liked the idea of “same-day delivery.”
With the addition of back-to-college spending, which often includes furniture and home furnishings not required of pre-college students, overall retail sales associated with the season should reach $68 billion.
The average expenditure for a family with college children is projected to decline 1.9 percent to $899.18 from $916.48 in 2014.