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Back-to-school sales could hit a record $100 billion this year, even if kids stay home


Parents and children alike are facing uncertainty over schools and colleges opening in the fall.

It might seem like that would spell bad news for retailers this back-to-school season — but the pandemic is actually expected to boost sales. That’s because remote learning isn’t cheap.

The National Retail Federation, the retail industry’s largest trade group, estimates parents with kids in K-12 will spend an average of $790, up from $697 last year, while families with college going kids are forecast to spend an average of $1,060, up from $977 in 2019.

As a result, total back-to-school and college spending is projected to reach $101.6 billion, topping last year’s $80.7 billion and crossing the $100 billion mark for the first time, the group said Wednesday.

Families polled in the group’s survey said they will purchase more higher-priced items like laptops, desktops and computer accessories for their school and college-going children in anticipation that at least some classes will take place online, the group said.

The NRF report was based on a survey of 7,481 consumers and was conducted from July 1 to July 8.

For retailers, the stakes are high. The July-August school supplies shopping months are typically the second most important sales period for retailers ahead of the year-end holiday shopping season.

While tech purchases will top the shopping list, parents said they will also be buying new clothes but just not as much as last year, and spending on school supplies is expected to tick up slightly.

Online shopping is expected to dominate the way families will shop, with more than half of K-12 parents turning to the internet, up from 49% last year.

A separate back-to-school report from Deloitte last month also indicated that tech purchases and hygiene products will largely fill the school shopping basket.

The Deloitte report, which recently polled 1,200 parents with kids in K-12 grades and 1,025 families with college-going kids, indicated average spending of $529 per household on clothes, supplies, computers and electronics for schoolkids, up 2% from last year.

For college supplies, parents are expected to spend $1,345 per student, flat versus the prior year.

“I would have expected back-to-school spending to be down with unemployment trending up and so many people out of work. So these reports show there is some pent up demand and that could bode well for the holiday shopping period,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman and US retail lead with Deloitte LLP.



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