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 amounted to almost 70 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. The numbers were far above the usual in 2020, namely about 20 percent higher than the previous year. 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. In 2020, families with college students in the Northeastern United States are expected to spend the most on back-to-college supplies of any U.S. region, at around 1,250 U.S. dollars.
Approximately half of consumers planned to buy their tertiary education supplies in on-campus bookstores in 2020. Mass merchants, particularly discount department stores, such as Target and Wal-Mart, traditionally have attractive promotions on back-to-college items, with the additional advantage of being a one-stop shop. Therefore, some three-quarters of U.S. parents were planning to shop at mass merchants. Unsurprisingly, 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 2019 back-to-school season, U.S. consumer expenditure on back-to-college electronics or computer equipment is expected to reach about 13 billion U.S. dollars.
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.