Summer isn’t over yet. It’s not even August. But families have already started shopping for the fall return to school. Not only are people shopping earlier, they’re expected to spend in record numbers.
“We really do expect to see this be a stronger back-to-school season as we come into it,” said Kendra Doyel, vice president of merchandising at Portland-based Fred Meyer.
Experts are predicting back-to-school sales this year to reach a record high. Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation released a survey showing consumers are expected to spend $41.5 billion this year.
That’s up from $36.9 billion in 2022 and $37.1 billion in 2021, the previous records.
“We see for back-to-school a relatively strong increase in expected spending on electronics over last year, and that’s even more stark when we compare it to 2019,” said Katherine Cullen, vice president of industry and consumer insights at the federation, during a webinar Monday. “We know the pandemic changed a lot when it came to learning environments and when it came to the types of products people needed.”
Meanwhile, the retail survey showed back-to-college spending is anticipated to reach a new high at $94 billion, $20 billion more than last year.
“Back-to-class shopping is one of the most important consumer shopping occasions of the year,” said retail federation President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers have been preparing for months to ensure they are well stocked with essential items that families and students need for the school year.”
According to the federation’s survey, families with grade school and high school kids plan to spend $890.07 on average this year. That’s about $25 more than last year’s back-to-school record.
Focus on value
With the effects of inflation still being felt, many families are looking to save money on their back-to-school shopping this year.
Doyel expects consumers to be more focused on value, like they are in other retail decisions.
Consumers are shopping for value in every retail sector, Doyel said. “Not just necessarily in this back-to-school space.”
Fred Meyer, she added, is offering a 99-cent back-to-school supply kiosk and an app offering additional savings.
“Value can mean a lot of different things to different people,” Doyel said. “Making sure retailers can deliver on that piece of it will be paramount to having a really strong back-to-school season.”
With sales happening even earlier in the summer, folks are also beginning to shop for back-to-school supplies and wardrobe items earlier, as well.
Doyel said this phenomenon isn’t limited to back-to-school shopping. It’s been happening during holidays, too.
“As soon as we can get (products) down and on the sales floor, consumers are interested in getting ready for that next holiday season,” Doyel said, adding school shopping has fit into that category.
More than half of consumers who are buying for the back-to-school season had already started buying by early July, according to the retail federation survey.
At Vancouver Mall, the back-to-school crowds have just started rolling in.
“It’s kind of the calm before the storm,” said Chuni Shepherd, store manager at the clothing store Francesca’s. “But I feel like the community is really starting early to get that new fashion trend or style that they’re looking for for either themselves or their children.”
Overall, she said back-to-school shopping has been off to a great start. Brick-and-mortar retail suffered during the pandemic. But Shepherd said retailers like Francesca’s are getting back to a new normal.
“It’s a huge win for everybody,” she added.