Back-to-school shopping to reach $82.8B

Krystle Wagner • Aug 11, 2018 at 12:00 PM

School classrooms will once again be filled with students in just a few weeks.

Before the 2018-19 school year gets underway in West Michigan, families are stocking up on supplies. Collectively, back-to-school and college spending across the country is expected to reach $82.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey by Prosper Insights and Analytics. Last year, shoppers spent $83.6 billion.

Shoppers plan to spend an average of $236.90 on clothing; $138.66 on shoes; $187.10 on electronics; and $122.13 on supplies such as backpacks, notebooks and lunch boxes, according to the survey.

Top places shoppers plan to visit are department stores (57 percent), online retailers (55 percent), discount stores (52 percent), clothing stores (51 percent) and office supply stores (35 percent).

Before heading to the store, Amy Taylor said she spends an hour or two carefully comparing prices for the items on her sons’ supply lists.

“With four kids going back to school, it’s worth my time,” the Grand Haven woman said.

Taylor said she plans to spend a total of about $60 on supplies for her sons — one middle school student, one in high school and two in college.

Taylor said she sticks to the list and her sons don’t go with her. She also uses the discounted prices as an opportunity to stock up on supplies so, when the second semester rolls around, her family isn’t buying at full price.

When it comes to clothing, Taylor said her sons might receive a few new pieces at the start of the school year, but they usually wait until October or November to buy long-sleeve shirts and pants.

With the money they save, the Taylor family say they pay it forward to help other families. Last year, they filled backpacks with school supplies for a center in Holland. This year, the family purchased shoes for other children.

Cheryl Mikita, a summertime Grand Haven resident, says she shops with her grandchildren for supplies. The Jenison woman says she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and seeing their personalities come through in the items they select. They also buy extra supplies for their daughter and son-in-law, who are both teachers.

Items on this year’s back-to-school lists include notebooks, pens, pencils, binders, backpacks, lunch boxes and a graphing calculator.

“If they need it, we buy it,” Mikita said.

As shoppers stock up on supplies, Meijer expects to sell more than 63 million sheets of Post-it notes. That is equivalent to 4 million square feet or about 70 football fields, said Joe Hirschmugl, a spokesman for the Grand Rapids-based retailer.

Meijer also expects to sell 3.5 million pounds of notebooks and notebook paper, which is about the same weight as three jumbo jets, Hirschmugl said.

Organizational supplies are on an uptick with binders, bulletin boards, accessories, journals and more. Although tablets and digital technology led the way for years and people still use them, Hirschmugl said people are looking for additional ways to be organized.

Personalization options are also on the rise, whether it’s in apparel or school supplies.

“We’re seeing that students really want to personalize their experience,” Hirschmugl said.

According to the National Retail Federation, 77 percent of shoppers this year plan to start buying supplies about three weeks before school starts. Meijer stores saw families started shopping for supplies following the Fourth of July, Hirschmugl said, and sales are increasing as the school year approaches.

For the Feenstra family, planning for a new school year begins the week after Coast Guard Festival ends.

Brad Feenstra, the principal of West Shore Lutheran School in Muskegon, and his children, Morgan and Griffin, stocked up Friday on markers, notebooks and folders. Although Griffin, a third-grader, isn’t quite ready for school to start, eighth-grader Morgan said she’s looking forward to school because she likes participating in sports.

With a few weeks left before local schools start, Taylor encourages families to pre-plan their shopping.

“It puts a little extra money in your pocket,” she said.

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