Back-to-college - statistics & facts

Back-to-college shopping season, generally considered together with back-to-school shopping, is a huge source of revenue for clothing, electronic, and school supply retailers. The back-to-college shopping season typically peaks between mid-July and mid-August. However, in recent years, the shopping season has extended significantly with offerings and displays entering stores as early as May and lasting until October.

Back-to-school and back-to-college spending is a large seasonal event for consumer spending in the United States. Annual planned back-to-college spending figures reached over 70 billion U.S. dollars in 2021. The numbers were far above the usual in the last couple of years, namely about 20 percent higher. Unsurprisingly, parents play a central role by providing financial support to their college-going children through the purchase of a wide range of back-to-college items. Recent data suggest that college students and their parents see this season as an investment period. Families with college students in the South of the United States are expected to spend the most on back-to-college supplies of any U.S. region, at just over 1,250 U.S. dollars.

Approximately half of consumers planned to buy their tertiary education supplies in on-campus bookstores. Mass merchants, particularly discount department stores, such as Target and Walmart, traditionally have attractive promotions on back-to-college items, with the additional advantage of being a one-stop shop. Therefore, nearly three-quarters of U.S. parents were planning to shop at mass merchants. Online retail also plays a role here, with over half of consumers planning to shop online where they will benefit from the ability to easily compare prices and thus hunt out the best deals.

Many college students will choose this moment to invest in a new computer, laptop, or other similar forms of consumer electronics. In the 2021 back-to-school season, U.S. consumer expenditure on back-to-college electronics or computer equipment is forecast to reach about 18 billion U.S. dollars, which would be an all-time high. Since 2020, the year that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, spending computer-gear among back-to-class shoppers has increased considerably.

Retailers are getting creative to meet the needs of back-to-college shoppers. From offering shopping lists tailored to particular colleges, to setting up pop-up booths on campuses, or providing transportation from college to stores in the first week of school, it is evident that retailers are aware that this is a lucrative market, and they are willing to implement creative strategies in an attempt to cater to this market.

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