Back-to-Class shopping continues as school begins

“There’s still more shopping to do, and regardless of timing, the economy is healthy and shoppers are confident and willing to spend.”

Matthew Shay
NRF President and CEO

WASHINGTON – As students prepared to head back to class this month, consumers had completed just over half their shopping for school and college supplies, according to the annual survey released today by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

“If students aren’t in class already, they will be soon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve finished buying their supplies or new clothes,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “There’s still more shopping to do, and regardless of timing, the economy is healthy and shoppers are confident and willing to spend.”

The survey, which was conducted August 1-10, found consumers had completed an average 51 percent of shopping for K-12 school supplies and 52 percent for college supplies. That’s up from 45 percent in both categories from last year.


Only 17 percent of school shoppers and 15 percent of college shoppers were completely done, while 21 percent of school shoppers and 23 percent of college shoppers hadn’t started yet. And 66 percent of school shoppers and 69 percent of college shoppers planned to wait until two weeks or less before the start of school to make their final purchases.

Consumers cited waiting for the best deals and not knowing what is needed as the top reasons they hadn’t completed their shopping.

School start dates vary widely – some opened last week while others won’t start until after Labor Day, and most college classes begin in September. NRF expects consumers will spend $27.5 billion on K-12 and $55.3 billion on college this year.


For back-to-school shoppers, 73 percent still needed to buy basic supplies such as notebooks or pencils, followed by apparel (65 percent) and shoes (54 percent). On average, 51 percent of purchases were influenced by deals and promotions. Specifically, coupons (cited by 37 percent), in-store promotions (36 percent) and advertising inserts (29 percent) influenced consumers to shop at a particular retailer.

Nearly two-thirds of shoppers (64 percent) were influenced by school requirements when making purchase decisions. The survey found 17 percent of respondents said their school required pre-packaged supply kits, with 34 percent who didn’t have that option saying they liked the idea while 38 percent were not interested.

Back-to-school shoppers planned to finish their lists at department stores (49 percent), discount stores (45 percent), clothing stores (34 percent) and online (29 percent).


For back-to-college shoppers, 57 percent still needed to purchase school supplies, followed by apparel (41 percent). Personal care items such as shampoo or toothpaste were tied with electronics at 31 percent.

The survey found 38 percent of shoppers were influenced by coupons, followed by in-store promotions (30 percent), with newspaper inserts and word-of-mouth tied at 24 percent. They planned to complete their lists at department stores (42 percent), college book stores (37 percent) and online (36 percent).

“Consumers have been spending steadily throughout the back-to-school season, and taking advantage of events like sales tax holidays that make school supplies more affordable in a number of states,” Prosper Insights Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Even so, many shoppers are waiting in hope of finding last-minute deals.”

The survey of 7,228 consumers has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

About Prosper Insights & Analytics
Prosper Insights & Analytics is a global leader in consumer intent data serving the financial services, marketing technology, and retail industries. We provide global authoritative market information on U.S. and China consumers via curated insights and analytics. By integrating a variety of data including economic, behavioral and attitudinal data, Prosper helps companies accurately predict consumers’ future behavior to help identify market behaviors, optimize marketing efforts, and improve the effectiveness of demand generation campaigns.

About NRF
The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association. Based in Washington, D.C., NRF represents discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy.