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Families expected to spend more this year on back-to-school

Posted at 12:15 PM, Aug 10, 2020

Stores across the country are starting to advertise and display back-to-school sales. From electronics to clothes, the National Retail Federation is tracking buying trends as the new school year approaches.

"Parents may not know how their children are attending classes, whether it’s in-person or online, a mix, and that is certainly reflected in how people are shopping right now. So, when we did our study in early July most consumers did not know what they needed to buy yet," said Katherine Cullen, the Senior Director for Industry and Consumer Insights at the National Retail Federation.

She says there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year and most consumers are hesitant to buy back to school supplies right now, but many already have plans to spend more.

"For grade school and high school shoppers it is over $780 on average which is about $100 more than last year. So, some of that is definitely being driven by this current environment and it's shaping how people are planning to buy right now," said Cullen.

Cullen says consumers will likely spend $14 more than last year on school supplies and just as much on new clothes.

She said there are some things kids need no matter where they learn. "Kids keep growing even if they're not going to school in person, they will likely still need some new items."

But the big ticket items families will be spending money on is electronics.

"We are certainly seeing that many families, over half, are expecting there will be at least some online learning component and as a result they're planning to make some extra purchases around that: laptops, computers, head phones and speakers are a big component of that," said Cullen.

The National Retail Federation says grade school and high school shoppers plan to spend $70 more on average on electronics.

Amy Cunningham, a parent in South Carolina, says her family decided to purchase two laptops to help their children with online remote learning this fall. This past spring, the children shared their parents' computers.

"Having to juggle the kids’ distance learning with what we were doing was hard so we knew if we were going to do it this year, which was our plan, that we were going to need to get additional laptops," said Cunningham.

Cunningham says she likely won't need many other school supplies and doesn't anticipate needing to buy new clothes for the school year.

"I’d probably get notebooks and stuff like that just because we don’t have a lot of that sitting around. Clothes, no. They live in their play clothes at home now so there’s no point really," says Cunningham.

As for how parents will be back-to-school shopping this year, for many, gone are the days of traditional in-store browsing. The National Retail Federation says 40% of families will only be back-to-school shopping online.