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Sending the kids back to school is proving to be an increasingly costly affair for Britain’s parents, as the latest research from Mintel estimates that the back-to-school market was worth £1.16 billion in 2018. This is an increase of 36% on the previous year when it was worth £855 million. This makes back-to-school spending the third biggest retail spending event (excluding food/drink), after Christmas and Black Friday.

Mintel research shows that the cost of school uniforms in the UK continues to rise. Parents said they spent an average of £134 on school uniforms and shoes in 2018, a 6% increase compared to the average of £127 spent in 2017. Collectively, Brits spent a total of £510 million on school uniforms in 2018, up from £395 million in 2017.

Several factors are contributing to the rise in spending on these items: eight out of 10 (79%) parents, for example, say they prefer to spend more on back-to-school items that will last, while six in 10 (61%) say they have to buy items with the school logo.

The biggest increase in spending on back-to-school items was on computing equipment. Brits spent a total of £130 million on these products in 2018, compared to £80 million the previous year. The increase is the result of more parents buying tech products for the new school year: in 2017, 8% bought computing equipment, rising to 11% in 2018. Whilst this may appear to be a small increase, the typically higher value of such goods provided a real boost to the market.

Spending on stationery saw the second-highest increase over the same period, with Brits buying a total of £100 million on things like notebooks, pens and pencil cases in 2018, compared to £65 million in the previous year.

Adding to the burden, over two-fifths (42%) of parents said they feel pressure to buy their children branded back-to-school products and nearly half (49%) say there is more pressure now than previously to buy fashionable back-to-school items. However, saving their pennies and doing their bit for the environment, a third (33%) of parents say they have bought or would buy second-hand school uniform.

Samantha Dover, Mintel Senior Retail Analyst, said:

“The value of back-to-school spending has shot up in the last year due to more parents buying non-clothing items, as well as an increase in the average amount being spent on school uniforms and shoes.

Pressure continues to mount on parents to keep up with the latest trends. There has always been an appetite for branded products when buying things like trainers, bags and coats, which often aren’t part of the traditional uniform. However, this pressure is moving into new categories like computing equipment and stationery as parents are keen to ensure their children are keeping up with their peers.

Price does, however, remain a driving factor behind a lot of back-to-school purchasing. Competition in the school uniform market has particularly intensified in recent years with discounters continuing to undercut clothing specialists and supermarkets. However, strict school policies, as well as an increased interest in sustainability with most parents willing to spend more on clothes that will last longer, means that average spend on school uniforms continues to rise.”

Parents want convenience and value; most find back-to-school shopping stressful

Parents find it helpful to have most of the back-to-school items they need to buy under one roof, with 77% saying it’s more convenient to shop at a retailer that sells a wide range of these items. This goes hand-in-hand with the popularity of grocers for back-to-school shoppers, with 45% saying they bought items from a supermarket in 2018. While most (87%) bought items in-store, a sizable proportion (42%) also shopped online.

Back-to-school shoppers acknowledge that value for money has improved, with nearly two-thirds (65%) saying there are now better options for some of the lower-cost back-to-school products than there were previously.

Despite this improvement, over half (53%) of parents still find the back-to-school shopping period stressful.

Samantha Dover, Mintel Senior Retail Analyst, said:

“The popularity of supermarkets during the back-to-school shopping period is driven by the consumer desire for convenience and value. They appeal because they offer a broad range of products needed for the start of the academic year, including stationery, lunchboxes and tech products, all under one roof. However, online-only and discount retailers are increasingly challenging their strength in this market.

One way for retailers to stand out in a crowded marketplace is to make the back-to-school experience less stressful for parents. British retailers could take inspiration from their European counterparts and, more specifically, Spanish children’s concept store Little Stories, which is a great example of how to improve the retail environment for both parents and their children. It uses primary colours and cartoon motifs to create a child-friendly interior, in-store paths for children to follow and a half-height counter helping them feel part of the buying experience.”