It's the middle of July, and much to the chagrin of kids and parents alike, back-to-school time is right around the corner. While students may dread the return to strict bedtimes and homework, parents have to worry about paying for back-to-school shopping. However, recent research suggests that this may be a good year for retailers. According to an annual survey, total spending for K-12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $82.8 billion, nearly as high as last year's $83.6 billion.

The data comes from an annual survey conducted by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics. Though parents of students in primary education plan to spend slightly less this year compared to last, the numbers are still good for retailers.

According to the survey results, families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $684.79 each, compared with last year's $687.72 for a total of $27.5 billion. Though lower than last year, this figure represents the third-highest total in the history of the survey following a peak of $30.3 billion in 2012 and last year's $29.5 billion.

The report has better news for retailers who cater to students in college. When asked, the parents of young people heading to college, as well as college and graduate students purchasing for themselves, said they planned to spend an average $942.17 each. This is down from last year's $969.88, but when adjusted for the estimated number of shoppers in this demographic, it gives suggests a total of $55.3 billion in total sales. That's an all-time high in the history of the survey, up from last year's previous record of $54.1 billion.

"With the economy thriving thanks to tax reform and growing consumer confidence, we expect to see a very strong season," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. "College spending is expected to be at its highest level ever, and back-to-school will be one of the three highest years on record. Whether shoppers buy now or wait until the last minute, retailers are ready with everything they need for a successful start of the school year."

According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers for the K-12 range plan to spend the most on clothing, at an average of $236.90 per family. In addition to apparel, back-to-school shoppers also plan to spend, $187.10 on electronics (e.g. computers, calculators or phones), $138.66 on shoes, and $122.13 on supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes.

Students heading off to college have slightly different concerns which changes the way they plan to allocate their back to school spending. College shoppers will spend the most on electronics ($229.21). Besides electronics, they also plan to spend money on a hodgepodge of college supplies such as $153.32 on clothing and accessories; $109.29 on dorm or apartment furnishings; $102.82 on food; $83.41 on shoes; $78.70 on personal care items such as skin and hair care; $69.46 on school supplies such as notebooks and backpacks; $62.61 on gift cards and $53.34 on collegiate branded gear.

Back-to-school shopping has traditionally been something parents did at local department stores, but there's evidence to suggest this could be a good year for online retailers. The top destinations for consumers shopping for back-to-school items were department stores (57 percent), online retailers (55 percent) and discount stores (52 percent).

And when it comes to preference, back-to-school shoppers prefer to online retailers. According to the NRF, the most popular shopping destinations for back-to-college consumers were online retailers (49 percent); department stores (40 percent) and discount stores (35 percent).

Now is the time to start advertising and marketing to back-to-school shoppers. Most back-to-school shoppers (77 percent) said they plan to start at least three weeks before school begins, up from last year's 74 percent and 64 percent a decade ago. Moreover, two in three (67 percent) college shoppers said they will start that early, the same as last year but up from 51 percent in 2008.

For more recent research that can help marketers plan for the future and create more engaging campaigns, read this article on the importance of fast shipping times.

Published on: Jul 16, 2018