NRF: Back-to-College Spending Tops $34 Billion

College students and their parents will spend $34.4 billion returning to campus this year, up 33.8 percent from 2004 and more than double what parents of K-12 students will spend, according to the National Retail Federation.

The NRF 2005 Back-to-College Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, the third annual version of the study, also found that when combined, the $47.8 billion that will be spent to prepare all students for school will rank second only to the holiday season in seasonal sales. NRF's Back-to-School survey said families will spend $13.4 billion on K-12 students.

“The spending power of college students is something that retailers are just beginning to grasp,” said NRF president/CEO Tracy Mullin.

Spending on back-to-college merchandise will increase in all tracked categories. In all, parents and students will spend $11.9 billion on textbooks, $8.2 billion on electronics, $3.6 billion on dorm and apartment furnishings, $3 billion on school supplies, $5.7 billion on clothing and $2 billion on shoes. With college students planning to spend $700 million more on electronics than last year, retailers should be able to make up for an expected dip in electronics spending by K-12 students and their parents.

Armed with graduation money and cash from summer jobs, underclassmen will be the most lucrative targets for retailers this year. The average freshman plans to spend $1,152, largely on electronics ($540), while sophomores plan to spend $1,029, primarily on textbooks, home furnishings and clothes.

“Retailers seem to have their finger on the pulse of the college student by offering the merchandise that they want at prices they can afford,” said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy at BIGresearch, which conducted the survey. “By turning their stores into back-to-college destinations, a variety of retailers are poised for strong sales this month.”

Understandably, the most-sought-after shopping destination for college students and their parents will be very close to campus, with 59.8 percent planning to purchase back-to-college items at a college bookstore. More than half (55.8 percent) will shop at discount stores for their purchases, followed by office supply stores (41 percent), department stores (36.1 percent) and online (32 percent).

BIGresearch polled 6,141 consumers Aug. 3-10. The consumer poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent.

Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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