The average family will spend more freely on school and college supplies this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics. Total spending for K–12 and college is expected to reach $75.8 billion, an increase from last year’s $68 billion. There’s bad news for small, local retailers, however: Only 16 percent of the back-to-school shoppers say they will shop at small, local businesses.


The old saying about the economy suggests “a rising tide lifts all boats.” But when it comes to back-to-school shopping, the tide is more likely to lift the Old Navy national chain than the local Main Street merchant. While many small retailers successfully reach the back-to-school shopper with promotions and sales, the chart below from the NRF survey shows that shopping local is not a high priority for parents and students making shopping plans.

| Here’s why it’s important to make back-to-school shopping a season for shopping local

Back-to-school shopping is a $76 billion opportunity for retailers. According to the NRF, back-to-school shopping is surpassed only by year-end holiday shopping—it is the second-biggest shopping season for all retailers. Next year, there needs to be a national day like Small Business Saturday for back-to-school shopping.

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| Back to school (Kindergarten–12th Grade) spending, 2016

$673.57 | Average back-to-college expenditures per student (up from $630.3 in 2015)
$27.3 billion | Total back-to-school spending  (up from $43.1 in 2015)

NRF President, CEO Matthew Shay | “Families are still looking for bargains, but there are signs that they are less worried about the economy than in the past. Heading into the second half of the year, we are optimistic that overall economic growth and consumer spending will continue to improve as they did in the first two quarters of the year. We fully expect retailers to be aggressive with offering great deals both in stores and online for back to school shoppers. And retailers will keep a close eye on inventory levels as families spread out their shopping throughout the summer.”

| What are students and parents buying when back-to-school shopping, 2016?

Clothing | $235.39 per student | $9.54 billion total
Electronics | $204.06 per student | $8.27 billion total
Shoes | $126.35 per student | $5.12 billion total
School supplies |$107.76 per student | $4.37 billion total

| Back to school (K–12) spending trend since 2007

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| Back to College Spending, 2016

$888.71 | Average back-to-school spending per college student (Down from $$899.18 in 2015)
$48.5 billion | Total back-to-school spending (up from $43.1 in 2015)

NRF President, CEO Matthew Shay | “Whether it’s laptops for class or mini-fridges for the dorm, college simply costs more than the lower grades, some of these big-ticket items can last all four years, but when they need to be replaced it’s a bigger investment than pencils and lunchboxes. But retailers are ready to help students and parents alike stretch their dollars and make the investment in college pay off.”


| What are students buying when back-to-college shopping, 2016?

Electronics | $211.33 per student |$11.54 billion total
Clothing | $137.29 per student |$7.49 billion total
Dorm furnishings | $105.88 per student | $6.23 billion total
Food items | $114.21 per student | $5.78 billion total
Personal care items |$78.03 per student | $4.26 billion total
Shoes | $70.39 per student | $3.84  billion total
School supplies |  $64.64 per student |  $3.53  billion total
Gift cards | $57.54 per student | $3.14  billion total
Branded collegiate gear | $49.41 per student | $2.70 billion total

| Back to college spending trend since 2007

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Back to School Shopping Lesson #1: Shop Local


Photo: ThinkStock