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US Back to School Shopping market report

Everything you need to make the right decisions

Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the Back to School Shopping market, and the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

Mintel has the answers you’re looking for

What are the key challenges facing the industry? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

Covered in this report

This report defines BTS shopping as any shopping done in preparation for a school term. This may include clothing and accessories, supplies such as pens, pencils, paper, electronics, and other items consumers purchase specifically for school. This report explores two target audiences:

  • Parents shopping for children in grades K-12 as well as for college students
  • College students shopping for themselves

What you need to know

BTS (back-to-school) shopping was estimated to reach $80 billion in 2018. iGens and their Millennial parents should be a focus, but shoppers do span generations, making it a key time period to build up relationships and establish loyalty that can last a lifetime. Shoppers are still buying the same basic items – clothes, supplies and electronics (to a degree) – but doing so in different ways than in the past, with digital connectivity a common thread.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Diana Smith, a leading analyst in the Retail & Apparel sector, her extensive knowledge delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

The BTS (back-to-school) shopping season is the second largest retail sales period of the year behind the winter holidays, representing a key time for retailers to engage with both parents and kids and also to build relationships and loyalty that may be leveraged at other shopping moments. Loyalty often begins at a young age and can last throughout a child’s school years and beyond. Diana Smith
Associate Director - Retail & Apparel

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Table of contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Definition
      • Executive Summary

        • Overview
          • Spending and expected participation levels
            • What you want to know
              • What we see
                • Planned purchases
                  • What you want to know
                    • What we see
                      • Shopping timeframe
                        • What you want to know
                          • What we see
                            • Preferred retailers
                              • What you want to know
                                • What we see
                                  • Influencers
                                    • What you want to know
                                      • What we see
                                        • What consumers want from retailers
                                          • What you want to know
                                            • What we see
                                              • What it means
                                              • The Market – What You Need to Know

                                                • Over $80 billion strong
                                                  • Clothes and electronics comprise majority of budgets
                                                    • Youth population stagnates
                                                      • Think single
                                                        • Favorable economic climate
                                                          • Education not a nominal expense
                                                          • Market Size

                                                            • Status quo in 2018
                                                              • Figure 1: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, in current dollars, 2013-18
                                                            • Highest estimated college spending on record
                                                              • Figure 2: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, in current dollars, 2013-18
                                                          • Market Breakdown

                                                            • Expectations decline for college spending per household
                                                              • Figure 3: Consumers' expected back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college average spending per household, in current dollars, 2013-18
                                                            • Clothing and electronics are the biggest spending categories
                                                              • Figure 4: Expected back-to-school (K-12) household share of spend, by category, 2018
                                                              • Figure 5: Expected back-to-college household share of spend, by category, 2018
                                                              • Figure 6: Consumers' expected back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending per household, by primary category, in current dollars, 2018
                                                          • Market Factors

                                                            • The population
                                                              • Fewer children, fewer BTS needs
                                                                • Figure 7: Households, by presence of related children, 2008-18
                                                              • A different picture for multicultural households
                                                                • Figure 8: Share of households with related children, by race and Hispanic origin of householder, 2018
                                                              • A shrinking school-aged kid population
                                                                • Figure 9: Population school-aged children, by age, 2013-23
                                                              • Changing family dynamics
                                                                • Figure 10: Living arrangements of children under age 18, 2008 and 2018
                                                              • The economy
                                                                • Macroeconomic factors bode well for upcoming BTS season
                                                                  • Figure 11: Consumer confidence and unemployment, 2000-November 2018
                                                                  • Figure 12: Median household income, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2007-17
                                                                • Education
                                                                  • Kids are expensive
                                                                    • College enrollment on the decline
                                                                      • Figure 13: Share of school enrollment of the population 3 years old and over, by level, 2017
                                                                    • More students studying online
                                                                    • Key Players – What You Need to Know

                                                                      • Standing out in the inbox
                                                                        • Working around the Amazon effect
                                                                          • Clambering for student dollars
                                                                            • iGens and Millennial parents as shoppers = a digital future
                                                                            • What’s Happening?

                                                                              • Email continues to pay dividends
                                                                                  • Figure 14: Back-to-school top volume email campaigns, Target and Macy’s, June-September 2018
                                                                                  • Figure 15: Back-to-school top performing email campaigns, Amazon, Panera, Nike, June-September 2018
                                                                                  • Figure 16: Back-to-school FedEx email, August 2018
                                                                                • Competing against Amazon
                                                                                  • Figure 17: Back-to-school top volume direct mail campaigns, Jet.com and Walmart, July–August 2018
                                                                                • Catering to college students
                                                                                  • Electronics
                                                                                    • Figure 18: Back-to-school top volume direct mail campaign, Dell, July 2018
                                                                                    • Figure 19: Back-to-school telecom campaigns, Sprint and AT&T, July-August 2018
                                                                                  • Furnishings
                                                                                    • Figure 20: Walmart’s 3-D virtual shopping tour, screen shot, June 2018
                                                                                  • Clothing
                                                                                  • What’s Next?

                                                                                    • Technology and “modern” convenience will shape the future
                                                                                      • Trending attitudes toward online shopping
                                                                                        • Figure 21: Attitudes toward online shopping, by generation, March 2018
                                                                                      • Shopping and sharing via social media
                                                                                        • Figure 22: Attitudes toward social media for online shopping, by generation, September 2018
                                                                                      • Will impulse shoppers buy online?
                                                                                        • What iGens consider and seek when shopping
                                                                                          • Figure 23: iGeneration purchase preferences, by age, December 2017
                                                                                      • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                                                                        • Positive signs for 2019-20 school year
                                                                                          • More time to shop
                                                                                            • Big three capture share of shopping occasions
                                                                                              • Clothes, shoes, supplies, check!
                                                                                                • Schools are a growing influencer
                                                                                                  • Parents want fun and convenience; college kids want to save a buck
                                                                                                  • Shopping Participation

                                                                                                    • Key highlights
                                                                                                      • Participation levels expected to be higher in 2019
                                                                                                        • Figure 24: Shopping participation – Parents versus college students, November 2018
                                                                                                      • Parents
                                                                                                        • Dads are shopping too
                                                                                                          • Figure 25: Shopping participation – Parents, November 2018
                                                                                                          • Figure 26: Shopping participation – Parents, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                        • College students
                                                                                                          • More students planning to shop
                                                                                                            • Figure 27: Shopping participation – College students, October 2017-November 2018
                                                                                                          • Most college students live at home while in school
                                                                                                            • Figure 28: College student living arrangements, by shopping participation in 2018-19, November 2018
                                                                                                        • Shopping Timeframe

                                                                                                          • Key highlights
                                                                                                            • Getting a jump start
                                                                                                              • Parents
                                                                                                                • Over 70% start at least three weeks out
                                                                                                                  • Figure 29: Shopping timeframe – Parents, November 2018
                                                                                                                  • Figure 30: Shopping timeframe - parents, by number of children under 18 in household, November 2018
                                                                                                                • In and out in one trip
                                                                                                                  • Figure 31: Attitudes toward timing of shopping - Parents, by household income, November 2018
                                                                                                                • College students
                                                                                                                  • Majority do most of their shopping before school begins
                                                                                                                    • Figure 32: Attitudes toward timing of shopping – College students, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                                  • The impact of Amazon Prime Day
                                                                                                                  • Retailers Shopped

                                                                                                                    • Key highlights
                                                                                                                      • “Big three” continue to dominate; ecommerce grows
                                                                                                                        • Figure 33: Top three retailers shopped and method of shopping – parents versus college students, November 2018
                                                                                                                      • Parents
                                                                                                                        • Walmart is winning
                                                                                                                          • Figure 34: Retailers shopped – Parents, November 2018
                                                                                                                        • Dads shop a little differently than moms
                                                                                                                          • Figure 35: Retailers shopped – Parents, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                                        • Lower-income consumers more allegiant to Walmart, dollar stores
                                                                                                                          • Figure 36: Retailers shopped – Parents, by household income, November 2018
                                                                                                                        • Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic shoppers also seek value
                                                                                                                          • Figure 37: Retailers shopped – Parents, by race and Hispanic origin, November 2018
                                                                                                                        • College students
                                                                                                                          • Amazon declines the most YOY as students favor physical stores
                                                                                                                            • Figure 38: Retailers shopped – College students, November 2018
                                                                                                                        • Items to Purchase

                                                                                                                          • Key highlights
                                                                                                                            • Clothing, accessories, supplies top shopping lists
                                                                                                                              • Parents
                                                                                                                                • All-in-one supply kits add convenience for some; reduces fun for others
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 39: Items to purchase – Parents, November 2018
                                                                                                                                  • Young boys may be content with last year’s styles
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 40: Clothing and footwear to purchase – Parents, by gender by age of child, November 2018
                                                                                                                                  • Moms take the reins during BTS
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 41: Items to purchase – Parents, by gender and marital status, November 2018
                                                                                                                                  • Invested in their children’s success
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 42: Attitudes toward back-to-school shopping – Parents, by household income and marital status, November 2018
                                                                                                                                  • College students
                                                                                                                                    • Three quarters plan to prioritize school supplies
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 43: Items to purchase – College students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                    • Electronics are a higher priority
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 44: Electronics to purchase – College students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                    • Year in school as well as where students live impacts what they buy
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 45: Items to purchase – College students, by shopping participation, November 2018
                                                                                                                                    • Consider all living situations
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 46: College student living arrangements, by items to purchase, November 2018
                                                                                                                                  • Shopping Influencers

                                                                                                                                    • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                      • Deals, recommendations and familiarity sway shopping decisions
                                                                                                                                          • Figure 47: Influence of recommendations and media/advertising – parents versus college students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                          • Figure 48: Shopping influencers – Parents versus college students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                        • Parents
                                                                                                                                          • Deal-based incentives have universal appeal
                                                                                                                                            • Figure 49: Influence of promotions/coupons and brand familiarity – Parents, by household income, November 2018
                                                                                                                                            • Figure 50: Shopping influencers – Parents, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                                                          • Kids themselves have tremendous pull
                                                                                                                                            • Figure 51: Influence of children – Parents, by gender and by age, November 2018
                                                                                                                                          • College students
                                                                                                                                            • School recommendations, social media and some advertising see gains
                                                                                                                                              • Figure 52: Shopping influencers – College students, 2018 versus 2019, October 2017 and November 2018
                                                                                                                                              • Figure 53: Shopping influencers – College students, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                                                            • Social media no longer optional
                                                                                                                                                • Figure 54: Social media usage – College students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                            • Attitudes and Behaviors toward Back-to-School Shopping

                                                                                                                                              • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                                • Retailers can enhance positive feelings associated with BTS
                                                                                                                                                  • Parents
                                                                                                                                                    • More fun, less stress
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 55: Attitudes related to enjoyment of back-to-school shopping – parents, by gender and generation, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 56: Sources of stress – Parents, by household income and number of children in the household, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 57: Attitudes toward kids’ empowerment, by attitudes toward back-to-school shopping - parents, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                    • Bonding time
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 58: How parents view back-to-school shopping, by generation and gender and marital status, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                    • College students
                                                                                                                                                      • Nearly half buy their own items
                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 59: Financial responsibility for back-to-school needs – college students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 60: Financial responsibility for back-to-school needs, by select shopping behaviors – college students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                      • Recycling tendencies may pose a threat
                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 61: Attitudes and behaviors toward recycling – College students, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                    • Desired Improvements

                                                                                                                                                      • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                                        • Convenience for parents, value/savings for students
                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 62: Top five desired improvements, parents versus college students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                        • Parents
                                                                                                                                                          • Little conveniences go a long way with parents
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 63: Desired improvements – Parents, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                          • Working parents value convenience more than stay-at-home parents do
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 64: Select desired improvements – Parents, by employment status of parent, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                          • Dads keenly interested in anything that helps them shop for their kids
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 65: Select desired improvements – Parents, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                          • Three quarters of parents can be reached with just five improvements
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 66: TURF analysis – Parents’ desired improvements, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                          • College students
                                                                                                                                                            • Savings and shortcuts
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 67: Desired improvements – College students, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                            • Women seek discounts and convenience while men seek assistance
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 68: Select desired improvements – College students, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                            • Top two value-oriented improvements would reach nearly three quarters of students
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 69: TURF analysis – College students’ desired improvements, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                          • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                                                                                            • Data sources
                                                                                                                                                              • Sales data
                                                                                                                                                                • Consumer survey data
                                                                                                                                                                  • TURF analysis methodology
                                                                                                                                                                    • Direct marketing creative
                                                                                                                                                                      • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                                                                                        • Abbreviations
                                                                                                                                                                          • Terms
                                                                                                                                                                          • Appendix – The Market

                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 70: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, in current dollars, 2013-18
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 71: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2013-18
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 72: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, by segment, in current dollars, 2013-18
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 73: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, by segment, in current dollars, 2016 and 2018
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 74: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2013-18
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 75: Consumers' planned back-to-college spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2013-18
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 76: Consumers' expected back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending per household, by category, in current dollars, 2018
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 77: School enrollment of the population 3 years old and over, by level, October 2008-17
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 78: Enrollment Status of the Population 3 Years and Over, by age and level, October 2017
                                                                                                                                                                          • Appendix – Key Players

                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 79: Back-to-school email read rate and volume, by day of week, June-September 2018
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 80: Back-to-school share of email volume, by retailer, June-September 2018
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 81: Back-to-school Verizon direct mail, July 2018
                                                                                                                                                                          • Appendix – The Consumer

                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 82: Table – TURF analysis – Parents’ desired improvements, November 2018
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 83: TURF analysis – college students’ desired improvements, November 2018