Consumers are expected to spend a record $41.5 billion on back-to-school (BTS) shopping this year, up from $36.9 billion in 2022 as well as the previous high of $37.1 billion in 2021, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Back-to-college (BTC) spending is expected to hit its own high of $94 billion, approximately $20 billion more than last year’s record.
The increase in BTS spending is being driven by higher demand for electronics, with 69% of parents expecting to buy electronics or other computer-related accessories this year. This is the highest percentage in the survey’s history, up from 65% last year. Total spending on electronics is expected to reach $15.2 billion, with the top products planned for purchase including laptops (51%), tablets (36%) and calculators (29%).
Additionally, shoppers started their BTS journey early for the second year in a row. More than 55% of respondents who are planning to shop for school supplies said they had already started buying as of early July — on par with 2022 and up from 44% in 2019. Opportunities still remain for retailers to capture the remaining spend, as 85% of families still have at least half of their shopping left to do.
Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $890.07 on BTS items this year, approximately $25 more than last year’s record of $864.35.
College students and their families are expected to spend even more heavily, reaching an average of $1,366.95 per person, up from $1,199.43 last year, topping the previous record of $1,200.32 set in 2021. BTC spending has nearly doubled since 2019.
The most common reason for spending more than last year is needing new things, at 43% in 2023 compared to 32% in 2022. Another 32% say they need more big-ticket purchases such as computers, phones, calculators and dorm furnishings. Spending on these items, along with necessities like food, is expected to account for more than half of the increased BTC spending totals this year.
For all back-to-class shoppers, the top retail destinations are ecommerce, department stores and discount stores.
“Even though consumers plan to spend more on school and college-related items this year, they are still looking to find the best value and deals,” said Phil Rist, EVP of Strategy at Prosper in a statement. “Consumers are stretching their dollars by comparing prices, considering off-brand or store-brand items, and are more likely to shop at discount stores than last year.”
Deloitte Releases Gloomier Back-to-School Predictions
However, not all experts agree that this will be a banner year for BTS. Deloitte projects that sales will fall 10% compared to 2022 levels as parents focus on just getting the essentials. The firm recorded a 23.7% increase in school supply prices over the past two years.
As a result, spending per child is expected to be $597 this year, down from $661 in 2022, with low-, mid- and high-income families all pulling back. The research also found that 68% of parents plan to spend the same or less as they did last year, with 51% of those citing reduced disposable income as their reason.
Despite their different outlooks, Deloitte and NRF agreed on one aspect of BTS: shoppers are starting their journeys early. Deloitte found that, on average, 59% of BTS budgets will be spent by the end of July, compared to 53% in 2022.