2023 Back-to-School Consumer Trends

Back-to-School Spending

Back-to-school spending is expected to reach record levels in 2023. Between rising prices and an increasing number of students needing new technologies for school work, the National Retail Federation dove deep into consumer trends for the upcoming season in a recent webinar. 

“Total spending on back-to-school is expected to reach $41.5 billion. This is about $4.7 billion more than what we saw last year,” Katherine Cullen, VP of Industry and Consumer Insights at NRF, said. “On average, back-to-school families are expecting to spend around $890 on everything from electronics to school supplies to clothes, and even shoes.”

Since 2003, NRF has conducted a comprehensive survey on back-to-class shopping trends. This year’s research included 7,843 consumers and was fielded June 30-July 6 with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points.

A Higher Demand for Big Ticket Items

Cullen says the biggest reason we are seeing such growth in back-to-school spending is because there’s higher demand for big ticket items like electronics. “This year, about 69% of back-to-school shoppers say that they need to buy electronics. This is up from 65% last year and the highest that we’ve seen in the survey’s history. And while students still need those traditional items like calculators, we’re seeing families saying that they’re more likely to also need items like tablets, smartphones, and even speakers and wireless headphones.” 

Source: NRF’s Annual 2023 Back-to-School Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics

An Increase in Back-to-College Spending

“Total spending on back-to-college is expected to reach $94 billion. This is about $20 billion more than what we saw last year,” Cullen said. “On average, back-to-college students and their parents are expecting to spend around $1,367 on all the items they’ll need for the first day of class. This is up from about $1,200 last year, and is a new record for our survey’s history.”

The factors contributing to a large increase in back-to-college spending this year is because students need more new items, according to Cullen, as well as more big ticket items. More than half of the $20 billion increase in back-to-college spending is coming from those big ticket categories like electronics and dorm and apartment furnishings, as well as staples such as food and snacks. 

Source: NRF’s Annual 2023 Back-to-College Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics

Inflation Impacting the Back-to-School Season

Higher prices and inflation have been top of mind for consumers everywhere, but NRF data shows that shoppers are continuing to spend in the areas that are most important to them. Right now, for families and students alike, back-to-school and back-to-college items are some of the season’s essentials. Even as they look for ways to make each dollar count, consumers are spending in this area. 

“This year, as consumers look for ways to stretch their budgets, we’re seeing more back-to- college and school shoppers heading to discount stores than they did last year. But even with that, the top shopping destinations for back to class still remain shopping online as well as heading to department stores,” Cullen said.