The start of school is still weeks away, but many Americans have already begun their back-to-school shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. And this year, their shopping lists are longer — and glitzier — than in years past.
“Families are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more confident about the economy,” said Matthew Shay, the organization’s president and chief executive. “With stronger employment levels and a continued increase in wages, consumers are spending more and we are optimistic that they will continue to do so.”
Families with school-age children are projected to spend an average of $688 per child, while the total for college students is much higher. The average college student plans to spend $1,051 this year, and in addition parents say they will spend an average of $1,347 on supplies for college, according to a survey by Deloitte. Overall back-to-school spending is expected to rise 10% to $83.6 billion, according to the NRF.
Where will all that money go? Nearly half of shoppers say they’re planning to buy a laptop, while roughly one-third will be springing for a tablet. But that’s not all: Shoes and school supplies are expected to see the highest increases in spending as Americans look for light-up sneakers, glittery notebooks and emoji-encrusted pencil bags. Here, retailers and analysts weigh in on the biggest trends this season.
1. Tech-y clothing
Cargo shorts, jeans, hoodies, even school uniforms are being reconfigured to accommodate cellphones and tablets. Meanwhile, retailers such as Vera Bradley, L.L. Bean and Herschel Supply Co. have introduced laptop-friendly backpacks with cord compartments and headphone ports. “This is really about function seeping into fashion,” shopping analyst Trae Bodge said. “Younger and younger kids are taking cellphones and laptops to school.”
2. ‘Millennial pink’
The year’s it-color, Bodge says, is “an ironic pink.” The muted salmon shade is cropping up everywhere — on clothing, couches and ceilings — and now retailers say it’s taking over school supplies. “It’s definitely the year’s big trend,” says Petter Knutrud, head of merchandising for Office Depot. “Notebooks, pencils, folders, erasers. We’re seeing it across multiple departments and designs.” And, adds Bodge, she also expects it to be a popular shade for girls’ clothing and hair dye in the coming year. “The big thing about ‘millennial pink’ is that it isn’t too girly,” she said. “This isn’t the classic bubble-gum pink that a lot of girls have turned their backs on.”
3. Video-game-friendly laptops
Students are increasingly “studying by day, gaming by night” — and want a laptop that can do both, said Petter Knutrud, head of merchandising for Office Depot. This year, the chain is stocking its stores with lightweight laptops that can be lugged from class to class, and then used for high-performance video games in the evenings. “It used to be that you needed a mammoth, clunky laptop for gaming,” Knutrud said. “Now you can do it all in one daytime-acceptable device.”
4. Flashy sneakers
This year’s sneakers are awash in neon colors, sequins, pom poms and flashing lights. “Kids have limited ways to express their personalities,” Bodge said. “That’s where bright and exciting sneakers come in.” One example: Skechers’ Twinkle Toes line, which includes light-up sneakers covered in neon-colored cats, glitter emojis, metallic sequins and iridescent unicorns. Some also have pom poms, rhinestones and three-dimensional flowers. At Walmart, executives are banking on Flashlights, a line of high-top sneakers with light-up soles, to rack up an expected $25 million in back-to-school sales. “These are a huge trend we’re betting on this year,” Steve Bratspies, Walmart’s chief merchandising officer, said this summer.
5. Accessories … for everything
It’s not just sneakers that are getting an over-the-top facelift this year. Retailers say add-ons like pom poms, stickers and emoji icons are making their way onto everything from notepads to pencil pouches. “How do you take the everyday stuff you use and make it more ‘you’? That’s the big question this year,” Knutrud said. “A notebook can’t just be a plain notebook anymore. It’s got to have little doodads.” To that end, he said Office Depot has begun adding special displays of accessories — keychains, charms, pencil toppers, donut-shaped erasers — throughout the store. And for the high schooler looking to spruce up a dingy locker, this year’s offerings include chandeliers, light-up mirrors and shag rugs, all made to fit in a standard locker.
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