NRF Forecasts Record Back-to-School Spending

Annual survey of consumers reveals strong demand for products as students head back to class this fall
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor, Store Brands
StoreBrands Greg Sleter
Consumer demand for back-to-school products will be strong this fall, according to a new NRF survey.

Consumer spending on items for students heading back to the classroom and campus later this summer are expected to set new records, according to new insights from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

In the NRF’s annual survey of shoppers conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, back-to-school spending this year is expected to reach $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion in 2022 and above the current record of $37.1 billion achieved in 2021. Back-to-college spending is expected to hit $94 billion, about $20 billion more than 2022’s record.

[Read more: "Suddenly, It's Back-to-School Season"]

“Back-to-class shopping is one of the most important consumer shopping occasions of the year,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF. “Our research for 2023 shows American consumers are eager to jumpstart their back-to-school and college purchases early. Retailers have been preparing for months to ensure they are well stocked with essential items that families and students need for the school year.”

Since 2003, NRF has conducted a comprehensive survey on back-to-class shopping trends. This year’s research included 7,843 consumers and was fielded June 30-July 6 with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points.

Shopping in preparation for the first day of school is already well underway. As of early July, more than half (55%) of consumers who are buying for back-to-class said they have already started shopping. This is on par with last year, but is up from 44% in 2019, and is in line with the trend of consumers shopping earlier for major spending events. While consumers have started shopping early, as of early July, 85% said they still have at least half of their shopping left to do.

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $890.07 on back-to-school items this year, approximately $25 more than last year’s record of $864.35 and a new high.

This increase in expected spending is primarily driven by more demand for electronics, as 69% of back-to-school shoppers expect to buy electronics or other computer-related accessories this year, up from 65% last year and the highest in the survey’s history. Total spending on electronics is expected to reach a record $15.2 billion. As in past years, the top electronics consumers plan to purchase are laptops (51%), tablets (36%) and calculators (29%). 

College students and their families are expected to spend an average of $1,366.95 per person, up from $1,199.43 last year, and a new record from the previous record of $1,200.32 in 2021. Since 2019, back-to-college spending has nearly doubled.

Forty-three percent of those who are spending more than last year say it is because they need more new items, up from 32% last year. Another third (32%) attribute it to needing more big-ticket items such as a computer, phone, calculator or dorm furnishings. Spending on big-ticket items such as electronics and furnishings as well as necessities like food accounts for more than half of the increase in total back-to-college spending this year.

For all back-to-class shoppers, the top destinations are online, department stores and discount stores.

“Even though consumers plan to spend more on school and college-related items this year, they are still looking to find the best value and deals,” said Phil Rist, EVP of strategy at Prosper. “Consumers are stretching their dollars by comparing prices, considering off-brand or store-brand items, and are more likely to shop at discount stores than last year.”

This article first appeared on the site of sister publication Store Brands.

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