NRF Survey: Back-to-School Spending Could Reach Record Levels as Families Gear Up for At-Home Learning Amid Pandemic

by Alex Tostado

Washington, D.C. — The novel coronavirus could result in record-levels in spending for back-to-school supplies as families across the country are expected to buy more electronics to prepare for at-home learning, a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics has found.

Major school systems around the country, including the Ivy League, Los Angeles Public School District, Atlanta Public Schools, New York City Public School system and the University of California school system have announced virtual learning or a hybrid of in-person and online classes for this fall.

According to the annual survey, spending could reach $789.49 per family with children in elementary through high school, which would break last year’s record expectations of $696.70 per family. College students are expected to spend $1,059.20 per family. Retail spending from college students and their families is expected to total $67.7 billion, up from $54.5 billion last year and breaking the record of $55.3 billion set in 2018. Total spending for kindergarten through college combined is projected to reach $101.6 billion — exceeding last year’s $80.7 billion and topping the $100 billion mark for the first time.

NRF surveyed 7,481 U.S. consumers from July 1 to 8.  Among those surveyed, 54 percent who had not yet finished back-to-school shopping had said it’s because they don’t yet know what they need. Only 10 percent had received a list of required supplies.

Families with children in elementary through high school are expected to spend $234.48 on clothing, down from last year’s total of $239.82. More than half of respondents (55 percent) said they will do most of their back-to-school shopping online, up from 49 percent last year. Most shopping destinations are expected to see declines, with 37 percent of consumers going to department stores (down from 53 percent); 36 percent going to discount stores (down from 50 percent); 30 percent buying from clothing stores (down from 45 percent); and 23 percent visiting office supply stores (down from 31 percent).

“By any measure, this is an unprecedented year with great uncertainty, including how students will get their education this fall whether they are in kindergarten or college,” says Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF. “Most parents don’t know whether their children will be sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer in the dining room, or a combination of the two.”

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