Bigger Budgets for Back-To-School This Year, According to National Retail Federation

Spending Expected to Increase 11% Over Last Year, But Doesn't Translate to Holiday Cheer

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A shopper walks into a UNIQLO clothing store.
A shopper walks into a UNIQLO clothing store. Credit: Sean Pavone/iStock

Retailers might just get their wish this back-to-school season. The National Retail Federation released a report Thursday that predicts consumers will spend more, shop earlier and be more receptive to specific promotions. The survey found that total spending for kindergarten through 12th grade and college should reach $75.8 billion, up 11% from last year. The expectations are in stark contrast to 2015, when shoppers waited till the last minute to spend and cut back on purchases.

"Families are still looking for bargains, but there are signs that they are less worried about the economy than in the past," said Matthew Shay, chief executive and president of the NRF, in a statement. He noted that retailers will be aggressive with deals in order to snare shoppers searching for a bargain.

According to the NRF's findings, families with kids in kindergarten through 12th grade plan to spend $673.57 on average, this season, up 7% from $630.36 last year. The NRF, whose survey was conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, noted that 2016 is a "stock up" year; many longer-lasting supplies such as backpacks and lunch boxes are in need of replacement, so families are spending more. In contrast, last year was a "make do" year.

In addition, shoppers who are stocking up earlier in the season might be spending more. A survey from Deloitte this week found that families of students in kindergarten through 12th grade that began their back-to-school hunt in July will spend around 26% more than those shopping later. That's good news for retailers who have already debuted their summer campaigns.

In recent days, customers have seen back-to-school marketing from Best Buy, Office Depot, JC Penney, Target and Kohl's. While some retailers are opting for humor in their efforts, many are also pushing deals and savings.

Though positive expectations for the season is welcome news after a lackluster holiday shopping period and a pull-back on summer spending last year, the survey is not indicative of the coming holiday season, an NRF spokeswoman warned.

"While the back-to-school season gives retailers an idea of consumer trends and popular products, it does not necessarily follow the same sales patterns for the holiday season," she said in an email, noting that back-to-school is needs-driven. "In addition, back-to-school/college shoppers represent just a fraction of overall holiday shoppers."

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