college instruments

Analysis

2017 back-to-college survey

Insights on spending and shopping trends

​Our 2017 survey reveals the back-to-college shopping trends that parents and students have in common and trends that demonstrate a generation gap. This year, back-to-college spending is poised to outpace back-to-school spending by nearly two times, mass merchants will be a top shopping destination, and college students will exert significant influence over parents’ shopping budgets.

2017 back-to-college survey

​2017 back to-college survey results

Take a closer look at back-to-college spending trends and find opportunities that others miss in our 2017 back-to-college survey. Our fifth annual back-to-college survey results are in—just in time for back-to-school and back-to-college season, the second biggest retail season of the year. This year we have good news: retailers that promote back-to-college offers and savings will move to the head of the class.

With a long list of desired items to spruce up the dorm room or to keep savvy students connected, back-to-college shopping will account for nearly two-thirds of the back-to-school season retail spend. Now is the time for retailers to do their homework with consumers planning to spend $46 billion on back-to-college shopping—this is nearly double the expected spend of $27 billion for back-to-school (grades K–12).

One reason for this vast difference is that the back-to-college market seeks a broader range of categories, carried across a wider range of retailers. The back-to-college consumer is often making bigger purchases, and both parents and students are on the hunt.

To find out what kinds of purchases back-to-college consumers are making, download our survey.

​Students have significant influence over parents’ back-to-college spending

College students are rarely short of opinions to share with their parents. So it is no surprise that, although parents expect to spend more overall this season, 68 percent of surveyed parents say that at least half of their back-to-college shopping is influenced by their students.

Could college students be expecting greater say because they are contributing more to back-to-college spending? Our survey reveals that more than half (57 percent) of students say they will contribute more than half of the funds. On the other hand, only one in five (21 percent) of parents agree.

While the parents are influenced by their students when making purchasing decisions, nearly half of students (40 percent) are looking to social media to assist in back-to-college shopping, compared to 18 percent of parents who use social media.

While parents expect to spend an average of $1,347 this back-to-college season (on par with last year), students plan to spend a little less—$1,051.

​Savvy college students find ways to stretch back-to-college expenses

Most college students (76 percent) consider themselves to be budget conscious going into back-to-college shopping season. Here are some of their intended back-to-college behaviors:

  • Eighty-one percent plan to buy from retailers who offer free shipping
  • Seventy-six percent plan to buy more used textbooks 
  • Sixty-six percent plan to rent more textbooks
  • Eighty-two percent plan to earmark budget for socializing with friends, and more than 50 percent for cultural and sporting events

We know that freshman spend the most because they are buying everything brand new for the first time. As such, they have the most overall average spend compared to other years at $1,452. But this year could be a winner for retail, as 53 percent of freshman expect to spend more this year compared to last year’s freshman class.

What are they buying? While the percentage of spend per category remains flat across different college years, freshman students are likely to spend a greater portion of their budget on computers and hardware (24 percent). Graduate students are likely to allocate a greater portion of their budget on clothing and accessories (18 percent).

College students have about a 10 year customer lifecycle preference so securing their brand loyalty is essential during the college years.

Shopping venue preferences differ between parents and students

This year our survey reported significant increases in back-to-college purchases made at mass merchants. Similarly, spending on fast fashion is rising, and off-price retailers are a preferred venue for budget-conscious consumers. At the same time, traditional department stores and specialty stores are seeing less traffic.

Explore these findings and more in the full report.

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