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NRF Expects Record-Breaking Back-to-School Spending in 2021

According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) back-to-school spending survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers plan to spend record amounts for school and college supplies as families and students look to return to in-person classrooms this fall.

“The pandemic forced parents and their school-aged children to quickly adapt to virtual learning, and they did it with an incredible amount of resolve and flexibility,” says NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “We enter the new school year with plans to return to the classroom, and retailers are prepared to help Americans find and purchase whatever they need to make this transition as seamless as possible.”

Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $37.1 billion, up from $33.9 billion last year and a record high in the survey’s history. Families of college students plan to increase spending $141 over last year, half of which is due to increased spending on electronics and dorm furnishings. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to increase spending $59 over last year.

Last month the NRF revised its estimate for total 2021 retail sales upwards to $4.4 trillion.

According to the survey, as of early July, more than half (51 percent) of K-12 and college shoppers have begun shopping for items they will need when classes resume. The survey also found that 39 percent of respondents took advantage of recent sales events such as Prime Day, Target Deal Days and Walmart’s Deals for Days to shop specifically for school items. However, a vast majority of K-12 shoppers were still waiting on lists for school supplies.

On average, shoppers reported they had completed only 18 percent of their back-to-school purchases by early July. Nearly 43 percent of all back-to-school shoppers say they plan to use money they received from government stimulus programs to purchase items for the upcoming school year. The recent child tax credit had not yet been announced during the survey period.

While online shopping remains a top shopping destination, families are much more comfortable shopping in stores this year than last year during the peak of the pandemic.

The survey of 7,704 consumers was conducted July 1-8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points.

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