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Connected Kids Contribute to Steady Growth in Back-to-School Sales

Back-to-school deals abound, but are parents spending? The overarching answer is yes, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, though the biggest shopping days are still ahead of us.

Back-to-school retail spending has grown for the past three years—up 4.1 percent in 2014 compared to the year before. However, despite back-to-school ads hitting the airwaves by midsummer, August 29 was the hottest shopping day last year. In fact, of the top five days for spending across retail, the earliest was August 15 while the season stretched until September 20.

“Old habits die hard, and while retailers are working to extend the back-to-school shopping season, parents are resistant to spending until closer to the first day of school,” says Sarah Quinlan, Senior Vice President of Market Insights for MasterCard Advisors. “Interestingly, sales of electronics trend even later, with the biggest shopping days hitting the weekend of September 19 last year.”


Electronics have become a big part of the back-to-school story as schools increasingly turn to an expanded array of devices as learning tools. The increased adoption of technology in and out of the classroom has been an important contributor to recent rises in back-to-school electronics spending, with sales up 7.6 percent last year. This increase helped offset a smaller, and slowing, increase in apparel—which rose just 1.2 percent in 2014, the smallest year-over-year increase in three years.

Back-to-school spending follows the general consumer trend to shop small. Consumers are increasingly spending at small businesses, defined as companies with $50 million or less in annual revenue. The growth in overall small business sales outpaced total retail sales by 3.9 percent in June this year compared to June 2014, when excluding auto, a trend that has lasted for 13 months.  On the flip side, when it comes to back-to-school spending, department stores have seen modest, yet consistent year-over-year declines in recent years. In 2014, back-to-school spending at department stores decreased 1.4 percent compared to 2013, for instance.

“Consumers are increasingly focused in their shopping, spending more at specialty retailers and seeking the unique offerings that small businesses deliver,” said Quinlan. “There is a big opportunity for department stores and other retailers who understand the changing consumer to create tailored strategies for delivering the experiences and goods they’re looking for.” 

About MasterCard SpendingPulse

SpendingPulse™ reports on national U.S. retail sales across all payments types. The findings are based on aggregate sales activity in the MasterCard payments network, coupled with survey‐based estimates for certain other payment forms, such as cash and check. In addition to the United States, SpendingPulse is available in select markets around the