$18.5 Billion On Back To School Tech

Danielle Beurteaux

It’s been a long time since shopping for supplies for the new school year meant grabbing a bunch of spiral notebooks and a new pencil case. If your August budget is a bit tight this year, blame technology. Because this year, parents will be spending more than ever for their kids’ back-to-school items.

According to a new report from American Express, the average back-to-school bill this year will hit $1,642. Compare that to 2015, when the average spend was $1,239. That amount includes everything from shoes to violins, but a driver in the increased bill is technology. Fifty-nine percent of parents plan to buy new technology for the coming school year, compared to 46% last year. Almost all parents (92%) say that tech is now an integral part of their kids’ education. Last year, that number was 82%. Parents are buying laptops, tablets, and cellphones, in that order; almost three-quarters of those cellphones will be smartphones, which are increasingly perceived as a necessary part of the educational experience.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) reports that 59% of American’s back-to-school shopping includes tech purchases, a 12% increase from last year. The organization is projecting that a whopping $18.5 billion will be spent on tech in 2016’s school shopping season. The top purchases on the CTA’s ranked list are smaller purchases and accessories; laptops are number 6 on the list and tablets way down at number 9.

While American Express reports that some parents say they’ll be cutting back on other expenses so they can buy all these new devices and accessories, another report found that they’re feeling more confident about their personal finances. That’s a driver of the likely increase in spending. The report also says that most shoppers will start their back-to-school buying by researching products online, but will head to a brick-and-mortar store to actually make the purchase.

According to the National Retail Federation, another reason for the increase is because we’ve entered a “stock up” period. The organization defines two spending periods: “stock up” is when parents are buying new; “make do” are the periods in-between when the technology is still working and their kids’ clothes still fit. But the NRF also says that growing confidence in the economy is also a factor. But many shoppers are still looking for bargains, and also starting the shopping process earlier than usual this year.

The NRF figures put the average technology spend this year at almost double the amount that will be spent on traditional stationery.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, college students (and/or their parents) will be spending the most, to the tune of $48.5 billion. Compare that to 2009, when that number was $30.1 billion. Of that, $11.54 billion will be spent on electronics.

Compared to the historical high of $30.3 billion in 2012 for back-to-school and $53.5 billion for back-to-college, this year won’t be a record-breaker. But the trend is upward, and it looks as if this year’s school shopping period will make many retailers very happy.

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Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.