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Back-to-college - statistics & facts

The back-to-college (or BTC) shopping season, which is generally considered together with back-to-school shopping, is a huge source of revenue for clothing, electronic, and school supply retailers. The BTC 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.

Spending on college supplies

The back-to-class season is a big deal in terms of consumer spending in the United States. Annual planned back-to-college spending figures reached over 70 billion U.S. dollars in 2021 and climbed to nearly 74 billion in 2022. The numbers were far above the usual in the last few years, namely about 20 to 25 percent higher. Unsurprisingly, parents play a central role by providing financial support to their college-going children, not only in terms of tuition, but also through the purchase of a wide range of back-to-college items. For college students and their parents, this season is seen as an investment period. In 2021, families with college students in the South of the United States were expected to spend the most on back-to-college supplies of any U.S. region, at just over 1,250 U.S. dollars.

In 2022, over 40 percent of BTC consumers planned to buy their tertiary education supplies from online stores and websites. Shopping online gives consumers the benefit of being able to easily compare prices and hunt out the best deals. However, that does not mean that brick-and-mortar stores were out for the count. Mass merchants, particularly discounters and department stores, such as Target and Walmart, were also popular. Traditionally speaking, such stores have attractive promotions on back-to-college (and back-to-school) items, with the additional advantage of being a one-stop shop. Finally, about a quarter of surveyed shoppers planned to go specialized college bookstores for their educational equipment needs.

What do consumers buy during the back-to-college season?

Many college students buy typical school supplies, clothing, shoes, food items, among other things. And while not everyone will choose this moment to invest in a new computer, laptop, or other similar forms of consumer electronics, a considerable share do, and these are usually the most costly items on the list. In the 2022 back-to-college season, U.S. consumer expenditure on back-to-college electronics or computer equipment is forecast to reach about 18.5 billion U.S. dollars, which would be an all-time high. Since 2020, the year that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, spending on computer-gear among back-to-class shoppers has increased considerably.

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