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Families to Cut Back on Back-to-School Spending This Year

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School-age kids won’t be raking in quite as many crop tops, joggers or iGear this year—and retailers won’t be getting the sales boost they sought. Back-to-school spending is expected to dip 9.3% to $68 billion.

U.S. consumers plan to spend $630.36 on apparel, electronics and other school needs this year, down from $669.28 last year, according to a National Retail Federation (NRF) back-to-school spending survey released Wednesday.

And though those consumers may be a bit more confident about spending with the economy shaping up, they’ll be carefully assessing what students actually need before buying. Of the spenders with school-age children, 76.4% said they would change their shopping habits because of the economy, and that’s the lowest the number has been in the seven years since NRF started tracking it.

“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 supplies every year,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay explained. “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.”

And in keeping with that good budgeting sense, more back-to-school spend could go to secondhand clothing.

In another back-to-school survey, released Monday, secondhand clothing e-tailer thredUP found that 86 percent of American parents would dress their kids in pre-owned clothing—in part because the move jives with the Millennial-driven trend toward being smarter, more responsible consumers.

Either way, Shay said, “Heading into the second half of the year, we are optimistic that economic growth and consumer spending will improve after a shaky first half of the year.”

NRF’s survey revealed that 40.6% of those who note the economy will affect their buying plans will be seeking out sales more often, down from 46.2% last year and the lowest number since 2009. Nearly 30 percent said they would also buy more generic or store brand goods, a dip from last year’s 34 percent.

Those who do plan to restock on school needs will spend roughly $217.82 on apparel, $97.74 on supplies and $117.56 on new shoes. Electronics were a hot-ticket item last year as consumers said they would spend a survey-high $212.35, but this year the need is less and $197.24 is the average expected spend in the category.

Most shoppers (62.2%) will be scouting out discount stores for their school goods, 56.4% will head to department stores and just more than one-third (35.6%) want the comfort of computer-based shopping for their supplies.

NRF said almost half of the online shoppers will tap into buy online pick up in store, or ship to store services and 17.3% will be on the hunt for offers of expedited shipping. Nine in 10 said they would take advantage of free shipping offers too.

“Savvy and budget-conscious parents today have plenty of experience when it comes to looking around for great deals and value-add promotions, and it seems mom and dad will use that to their advantage this summer to take advantage of retailers’ omnichannel services,” said Pam Goodfellow, a principal analyst with Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted the NRF survey. “To ease hectic schedules and long shopping lists, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see consumers try out and regularly use services like free shipping, reserve online and even same-day delivery—options busy parents have been waiting for.”

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