Savvy Students (and Parents) Continue to Shop for Back-to-College

August 21, 2013

Surveys_1 (shopping) feature


The National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association, has released its 2013 Back-to-College Research survey at a time when the cost of education is increasingly in the headlines. The poll of 5,635 consumers, conducted in July by Prosper Insights & Analytics, reveals some interesting insights about student spending as NRF President and CEO, Matthew Shay, points out. “The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind,” he says.

A Growing Market for Discerning Students

Click on image to enlarge infographic.
Click on image to enlarge infographic.

According to the NRF survey, college students and their families will spend an average of $836.83 on back-to-college for apparel, electronics and items such as dorm furnishings. Although this figure is down from the household total of $907.22 last year, the NRF points out  that 2012 was a banner year for college spending, and total spending for back-to-college is still expected to reach $45.8 billion, a spending level well above where it was a few years ago.

Shay suggests that although students and parents are looking to cut corners where they can, they will still buy what’s needed, and this might be reflected in different shopping habits to stretch their budgets. “The back-to-college market continues to grow – with stores luring students and their parents with attractive deals on everything from microwavable food products to personal care items and of course, home furnishings,” he remarks.

The need to carefully watch the budget has also influenced some student lifestyle options on campus. For example, the survey reveals fewer students will be opting to live in dorms or college housing, with more choosing to stay at home. According to the survey, 22.5 percent will live in dorms, down from 25.9 percent last year, 24 percent will reside in off-campus housing, down from 24.8 percent last year, and 47.7 percent will commute to their campus from home, up from 42.9 percent last year. Whereas special promotions and products that offer good value might take on a greater significance this year, the survey doesn’t show any indications that students will stop shopping. “Americans will look to cut corners where they can,” Shay says, “but will still buy what their kids need.”

Willing to Spend for that Personal Touch

If the overall forecast seems pragmatic, there are areas that represent year-on-year spending increases for retailers. Dorm and apartment furnishings for example, where two in five (42.0%) families will spend an average of $104.76 on new bedding, small refrigerators and microwaves, up from $100.27 last year. Spending on food items is also expected to increase as well ($104.44 vs. $100.18 last year). “Multiple factors go into a family’s decision on where their child will live during college, and it is likely the economy has something to do with parents wanting to keep their costs down and forgo the traditionally expensive room-and-board route,” comments Prosper Consumer Insights Director, Pam Goodfellow. “That said, we do expect those living on campus this year to do so in style. Millennials are extremely different from previous generations when it comes to personal style and décor, and retailers are answering their call with trendy college-related products that will put a personal touch on their temporary living spaces.”