Back-To-School Shoppers Rush to Make Last Minute, Big-Ticket Purchases

Words by Rahul Raghuvanshi

Back-To-School Shoppers Rush to Make Last Minute, Big-Ticket Purchases
Back-To-School Shoppers Rush to Make Last Minute, Big-Ticket Purchases

The back-to-school school season may be coming to a close, but consumers are continuing to shop at record levels.

This year, more consumers than ever began shopping for school supplies by early July, mainly just to spread out their budgets and find the best value on their purchases. Still, more than half of the consumers shopping for kids in elementary all the way up to high school are busy making last-minute purchases. And another 20% plan to make their purchases in the week leading up to the start of school.

Meanwhile, college-going students are waiting even longer to make their last-minute purchases, with 13% planning to do so after their classes start, according to a survey of 7,843 consumers conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

What are shoppers buying?

Must-have products such as notebooks and pencils are high on shoppers’ priority lists, as are outfits for the first few days. But it is not just small-ticket items consumers are shopping for last minute; more than a quarter of back-to-school shoppers and 34% of college students are yet to buy electronic products on their list. 

Moreover, almost a quarter of college students are looking to purchase furnishing products for their apartments and dorms.

Overall, back-to-school shoppers are expected to spend $41.5 billion this year, up from $36.9 billion last year. Meanwhile, back-to-college shoppers will spend a stunning $94 billion, nearly $20 billion more than last year.

Naturally, families of students returning to college are spending more on average at $1,366.95 per person, up from $1,199.43 in 2022. In comparison, families of students in elementary through high school are spending about $890 per person, up from $864.35 last year.

The record-breaking spending levels among both groups are primarily driven by an uptick in demand for electronics, with 51% investing in laptops, 36% buying tablets, and 29% purchasing new calculators.

In addition, more consumers are planning to buy computer accessories this year, with 69% saying so, up from 65% last year.

Overall spending on electronic products is projected to hit a record $15.2 billion.

A significant share of consumers (43%) spending more than last year attribute it to their need for new items. Meanwhile, nearly a third are spending more because they need to make big-ticket purchases, ranging from electronics to dorm furnishings.

Where are they shopping?

The bulk of the back-to-school shoppers are choosing to make purchases online, at department stores, or with discount retailers.

Many of these retailers are offering helpful tips to buyers in an effort to ease their last-minute shopping and increase overall spending. For example, Best Buy and Office Depot are reportedly providing checklists to assist students. Meanwhile, The Container Store and Dormify have teamed up to help students furnish their dorm rooms.

Ultimately, price remains a key deciding factor for where consumers choose to shop as they struggle with inflation in an uncertain economic environment.

“Even though consumers plan to spend more on school and college-related items this year, they are still looking to find the best value and deals,” Prosper Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Consumers are stretching their dollars by comparing prices, considering off-brand or store-brand items, and are more likely to shop at discount stores than last year.”

In addition to offering competitive price points, brands and retailers would be well advised to focus on providing a personalized and convenient shopping experience — one informed by location-specific and enterprise-wide data.

The use of artificial intelligence-powered tools, RF tags, and modeling software can further help deliver a superior back-to-school shopping experience to customers while preparing retailers for the incoming holiday season rush.

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