Survey of K-12 parents finds back-to-school spending is expected to decrease 10% to US$597/student, overall market is expected to decrease to US$31.2B; spending on clothing down 14% year-over-year, technology down 13%, school supplies up 20%: Deloitte

Sample article from our Consumer Wellness

July 13, 2023 (press release) –

New York, July 12, 2023

Key takeaways from Deloitte’s “Back-to-School Survey

  • Back-to-school spending for K-12 students is expected to decrease by 10% to $597 per student.
  • The overall back-to-school market is expected to decrease to $31.2 billion; spending on clothing is down 14% year-over-year, and technology is down 13% in favor of school supplies (up 20% year-over-year).
  • Shoppers generally prioritize retailers with competitive pricing, favoring mass merchants (80%), online retailers (60%), off-price retailers and dollar stores (both at 33%).
  • With interest rates up, more families plan to use cash (77%, up from 72% in 2022) than credit cards (52%) for back-to-school purchases.
  • Despite financial concerns, nearly 6 in 10 parents shopping for clothing/accessories and technology items are willing to splurge on better quality products or to treat their child.
  • Regarding technology, parents express concern over smartphones’ impact on their child’s mental health: more than one-third of those with concerns about their child’s mental health (36%) say they think smartphones have complicated their child’s life. Further, only one-quarter (26%) think generative artificial intelligence (AI) is a positive tool for schoolwork.

Why this matters
After 18 months of inflation, higher prices weigh on many K-12 families as they prepare for the upcoming school year. In addition to a 23.7% increase in the cost of school supplies in the past two years (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index), 3 in 10 (31%) surveyed parents say their households are in a worse financial situation than last year, and half (51%) expect the economy to weaken in the next six months. According to the “2023 Deloitte Back-to-School Survey,” consumers across income groups are expected to prioritize their spending and find ways to economize throughout the season. However, most parents are also willing to splurge on specific items for their children, signaling an opportunity for retailers heading into the back-to-school shopping season.

Deloitte’s back-to-school survey was conducted online using an independent research panel between May 26 and June 1, 2023 and surveyed 1,212 parents with at least one child attending school in grades K-12 this fall.

Parents rein in spending to focus on the necessities
Uneasiness about the economy is creating price sensitivity and causing some parents to reassess how they’ll approach back-to-school shopping. Based on respondents’ intentions, spending is expected to decline to $31.2 billion this year. Parents expect to spend $597 per student in grades K-12, down 10% from last year.

Despite this shift, the overall market is still above pre-pandemic levels, increasing 12.2% since 2019.

  • Among K-12 parents, 34% are postponing nonessential back-to-school purchases, up from 31% in 2022.
  • Parents are prioritizing school supplies while pulling back on technology and clothing: Spending on school supplies is expected to increase 20% year-over-year to $7.1 billion. Parents plan to reduce spending on apparel by 14% year-over-year; technology spending is set to decline 13% this year, as many parents purchased needed technology supplies during the pandemic to meet virtual or hybrid learning needs. However, technology spending is significantly higher than in 2019, indicating the potential importance of the category for the industry.
  • Over two-thirds of parents (68%) expect to spend the same or less on back-to-school year-over-year.
  • Inflation is why some parents plan to spend less on back-to-school and why others plan to spend more. Among parents spending less, 51% attribute it to reduced disposable income (up from 45% in 2022), while 75% of those spending more point to increased prices (up from 60% in 2022).
  • Most parents surveyed plan to pay with cash this season; more than three-quarters (77%) plan to use debit cards and/or cash for their back-to-school purchases (up from 72% in 2022).

Key quote

With budgets strained this season, continued high prices could dampen the excitement of the back-to-school season for many families. Consumers will likely prioritize where they spend money as they look to replenish their savings accounts and spend on experiences, such as summer vacations, over goods. Parents are likely to be strategic about their spending to help ensure children are set up for success at the start of the school year by renewing school supplies but perhaps holding off on new clothing until needed. It’s not all bad news for retailers with many parents willing to splurge on certain items to treat their children, which may provide an opportunity for retailers.

Nick Handrinos, vice chair, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution and consumer products leader

Financial fatigue shapes shopping behaviors
Back-to-school shopping will likely focus on finding ways to economize, including researching the best deals, shopping earlier, and getting items (and possibly returning them) in the most affordable manner.

  • Some parents plan to get an early jump on back-to-school shopping, with 59% of spending expected to occur by the end of July, up from 53% in 2022. Furthermore, 35% believe better deals occur earlier in the season versus 26% who believe they occur later.
  • Consumers overwhelmingly cite mass merchants (80%) as their most preferred retail format, followed by online retailers (60%) and off-price retailers and dollar stores (both at 33%). Forty-six percent of shoppers plan to spend most of their budget at mass merchants.
  • Only 34% of respondents say they often find lower prices online. As a result, 74% plan to shop in-store versus 56% plan to shop online for most back-to-school shopping.
  • In-store shopping is preferred for traditional categories, while those shopping technology largely shop online.
  • Two in 10 shoppers are undecided about whether to purchase back-to-school items in-store or online, representing a $6.3 billion opportunity for retailers.
  • Among online shoppers, 88% are willing to meet a minimum order value to receive free shipping. On average, consumers are willing to spend $32 on a minimum order value for free shipping. Six in 10 (59%) restrict their shopping to retailers with free returns, and 68% prefer returning in-store to avoid paying return fees.
  • As consumers look to protect their wallets, the percentage of parents planning to buy sustainable back-to-school products is down from 50% in 2022 to 35% this year (although slightly higher among millennials at 38%). Nearly half (47%) of those who won’t purchase sustainable products say they are not affordable. However, sustainable back-to-school shoppers spend 36% more than others.
  • Despite keeping an eye on their budget, many parents are willing to splurge for the right reasons. They say their child can convince them to splurge on clothing (57%) and tech products (56%).
  • Parents do their homework: 49% will research online before purchasing back-to-school products in the physical store, and 55% will research retailers’ return policies before buying.

Digital technologies may not make the grade
Social media’s relevance in the back-to-school shopping experience is waning as K-12 parents cite they are using channels primarily to economize. At the same time, some parents report smartphones negatively impact their children and question the use of artificial intelligence for schoolwork.

  • Only 21% of parents surveyed plan to leverage social platforms for shopping this year, compared to 35% in 2022. Further, 61% of those who use social media do so to find ways to economize their back-to-school spend.
  • Nearly half of K-12 parents (45%) are concerned about their child’s mental health, with more than one-third (36%) indicating that they think smartphones have complicated their children’s lives.
  • The adoption of generative artificial intelligence (AI) for schoolwork is nascent: 15% of K-12 parents say their child uses the technology in their schoolwork. However, only 26% of parents say they think it is a positive tool for academic performance and overall learning experiences.

Key quote

During the pandemic, the pull forward in back-to-school spending was to overcome concerns around stock-outs, but this year, we see consumers planning to economize throughout the back-to-school shopping journey. This cost consciousness is causing them to shop earlier, shop in-store to find the best price, and prioritize what they’ll purchase to start school. We expect a potentially strong season for brick-and-mortar, particularly among mass merchants who deliver a one-stop shopping experience.

Brian McCarthy, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Connect with us on Twitter at @DeloitteCB or on LinkedIn @NickHandrinos and @BrianCMcCarthy.

About Deloitte

Deloitte provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands, including nearly 90% of the Fortune 500® and more than 7,000 private companies. Our people come together for the greater good and work across the industry sectors that drive and shape today’s marketplace — delivering measurable and lasting results that help reinforce public trust in our capital markets, inspire clients to see challenges as opportunities to transform and thrive, and help lead the way toward a stronger economy and a healthier society. Deloitte is proud to be part of the largest global professional services network serving our clients in the markets that are most important to them. Building on more than 175 years of service, our network of member firms spans more than 150 countries and territories. Learn how Deloitte’s approximately 415,000 people worldwide connect for impact at


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