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Back-to-School Spending Projected to Remain Flat to Last Year, Deloitte Says

Retailers seeing dollar signs in the weeks leading up to the back-to-school rush may find their hopes deflated.

According to a new consumer report from Deloitte, sales are projected to remain consistent with last year.

The firm’s analysts predict parents will spend $27.8 billion (an average of $519 per student) in households with children in grades K through 12. That’s a barely-perceptible 1.8 percent bump from last year, when parents spent an average of $510 per student on purchases ranging from clothing and supplies to electronics.

Apparel and accessories, like backpacks, will dominate purchases, with data revealing 54 percent of a parents’ budget goes toward those items. School supplies come in at 22 percent, while electronic gadgets make up 13 percent, and computers and hardware account for 11 percent.

While more than half of shoppers (56 percent) plan to shop in-store, as they have in previous years, online shopping is gaining traction with the back-to-school set. Twenty-nine percent of shoppers expect to shop online, up from 23 percent last year.

Of those e-commerce shoppers, only 42 percent said they planned on shopping from a computer, down from nearly half (49 percent) in 2018. Instead, a shocking 60 percent of online shoppers plan to use their mobile devices to search retailers’ websites for prices and discounts or promotions.

“For the first time, people are telling us they’re just as likely to use a smartphone to make purchases as a laptop or desktop, which previously held the lead when it was time to click the ‘buy’ button,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and leader of the firm’s retail and distribution practice.

Sides added that undecided shoppers will likely lean toward shopping online, and that retailers should take advantage of both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce by offering a range of in-store and digital deals.

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But the choice will ultimately come down to price, Deloitte said. More than any other criteria, it remains at the top of a shopper’s list of considerations.

When determining where to shop, 69 percent of shoppers said they plan to look for sales and discounts, while 57 percent said they plan to seek out competitive prices.

Sides explained that school supplies are among the most price-driven purchases for parents, along with clothing. Big ticket items, like electronics, have the lowest overall demand for back-to-school shoppers.

Big box stores are still the place to be for back-to-school shopping, according to the survey. Nearly all (90 percent) of respondents said they planned on visiting mass market retailers like Target and Walmart in their quest for school supplies, clothing and more. And notably, online shopping has replaced dollar stores in popularity, which used to hold the second place ranking.

Retailers can expect to see back-to-school shoppers hitting stores over the coming weeks, as most (60 percent) said they’ll begin making the rounds six weeks to a month before the beginning of school. Late July and early August are likely to be busiest, Deloitte said, accounting for $17.3 billion in seasonal retail spending.