US parents disagree on cost vs quality when back-to-school shopping

July 25, 2018

As American kids hold tight to these last few weeks of summer vacation, parents are bracing themselves for the annual back-to-school shopping windfall. As they look to give their kids the very best start in life, new research from Mintel reveals as many as 43% of dads* believe quality is the most important factor when going back-to-school shopping, compared to 31% of moms*. Meanwhile, the nation’s moms are keeping a watchful eye on their bank accounts as some 41% rank price as the most important factor, compared to 30% of dads.

3 in 10 college students say they make a budget and stick to it.
And it’s not just moms who are aiming to save their cents as more than two in five (43%) college students** agree price is the most important factor when shopping back-to-school. What’s more, a cost conscious three in 10 (29%) college students say they make a budget and stick to it. Overall, many are trying to save anywhere they can as half of all back-to-school shoppers are swayed by promotions or coupons when deciding what to buy, whether it’s college students (50%) or parents* (49%).

“Back-to-school shopping is one of the nation’s biggest retail events of the year and for good reason: for the 2017 school season, consumers said they planned to spend over $83 billion on back to school shopping. During the past two school seasons (2016 and 2017), both parents and college students planned to increase their annual spending, going against trend. This could result in more of a ‘make do’ year for the upcoming 2018 season, but given favorable economic factors like higher income and consumer confidence, as well as increased college enrollment, positive year-over-year spending is very likely,” said Alexis DeSalva, Senior Retail and eCommerce Analyst at Mintel.

Parents spend more, buy new; college students thrift

While back-to-school shopping is nearly universal for parents (93%) and college students (96%) across the US, parents plan to do the most shopping for children in grades K-5 (38%) or grades 9-12 (35%) for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.
51% of parents buy most of their supplies new each school year.
Mintel research reveals that half (51%) of all parents buy most of their supplies new each school year; meanwhile, thrifty college students are more likely to recycle, with a sensible 60% using some of the same items from year to year. But it is female students who are the thriftiest shoppers as three quarters (75%) of female college students say they use some of the same items year to year, compared to just 44% of male students.

Advice from parenting experts may run the spectrum, but many parents of older children feel it is important that their kids stand on their own two feet. In fact, two in five (44%) college students say they are primarily responsible for buying their own back to school items, compared to a pampered 23% of those whose parents buy all or most of the items for them.

It seems parents want their kids to look the part when they drop them off in the morning as they are most likely to prioritize buying clothing (72%) when it comes to back-to-school shopping for this school year, followed by individual school supplies (57%). Meanwhile, college students have a different set of priorities as they are more likely to prioritize buying school supplies (72%) when back-to-school shopping.

“Our research shows that college students approach back-to-school shopping with a more price-conscious attitude than parents do, with more reusing items and listing price as a top decision-making factor. Since many college students are buying their own items, they likely have to be strategic with their purchases, possibly even forcing some to have to pick and choose what they will buy rather than upgrading to all new supplies each year. Some students could respond to off-cycle sales events that allow them other opportunities to take advantage of deals and purchase new items, relieving some of the financial pressure they might face during the traditional back-to-school shopping season,” continued DeSalva.

Deal-seeking behavior dominates desired improvements

With the popularity of websites that let consumers purchase school supplies online, it seems college students are looking for perks when they get their items delivered as 69% want free shipping compared to 54% of parents. Meanwhile, around half of students (51%) and parents (49%) would like to receive product bundle promotions or coupons for future use. Other desired improvements college students are on the hunt for include those designed to save time and effort, such as home or dorm delivery (36%).

Finally, when it comes to the big shop, two in ten (39%) parents say they prefer to do all of their shopping in one trip, but for just over one in ten (13%), it’s a last minute affair. And although just under three in five (57%) college students do most of their shopping before the new school year starts, girls (68%) are considerably more prepared than boys (45%).

“College students and parents share similar views regarding the improvements they’d like to see during the back-to-school time period and most are related to the deal-seeking behavior both groups demonstrate when shopping. Offers such as free shipping, promotional product bundles, and coupons for future purchases top the list of wants for both. However, college students are more likely to desire other perks, such as home/dorm delivery, flexible return policies and complimentary services, suggesting they’re looking for a variety of improvements to make their lives easier,” concluded DeSalva.

*Internet users aged 18+ with children under the age of 18 living in the household who participated in back-to-school shopping in 2017-18 or plan to participate in 2018-19.
**Internet users aged 18-23 who are full-time or part-time college students and participated in back-to-school shopping or who plan to participate in 2018-19.

Press copies of Mintel’s Back to School Shopping US 2018 report and interviews with Alexis DeSalva, Senior Retail and eCommerce Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

Mintel News

For the latest in consumer and industry news, top trends and market perspectives, stay tuned to Mintel News featuring commentary from Mintel’s team of global category analysts.

Contact Press Office
Related articles
February 15, 2024
While Amazon maintains its position as the most shopped brand for US online shoppers (84%), some demographics, like Gen Z, have multifaceted and evolving opinions of the e-commerce giant. Mintel…
November 17, 2023
It’s said that ‘money can’t buy happiness’, and most Brits (74%) believe that it can’t buy a happy Christmas either – according to the latest Mintel festive research. This is…
October 9, 2023
Nearly half (48%) of winter holiday shoppers agree they are open to shopping for pre-owned gifts for the 2023 holiday season. 45% of winter holiday shoppers plan to shop during…

Download the Latest Market Intelligence