Money Talks, So Should You

Retailers know everything about the back-to-school shopper

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

As the calendar turns from June to July, you’d think few Americans are thinking about back-to-school shopping — after all, school just got out in most states, and families are busy loading up the mini-van and heading out to the beach or mountains for some much-needed time off.

But try telling U.S. retailers that.

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Always ahead of the calendar, retailers have families pegged — or at least think they do — when it comes to planning back-to-school season.

They expect Americans to spend about $84 billion this year on back-to-school shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a huge shot in the arm for the U.S. retail economy from spending on such things as backpacks, shoes, sweatshirts, binders and electronics.

Further, MaxPoint, a Raleigh, N.C., retail services company, believes there are two kinds of shoppers spending those billions: “seasonal” spenders who spend most in the six weeks leading up to the first day of school and, yes, “year-round” spenders.

MaxPoint says the average seasonal back-to-school spender:

  • Earns more than $60,000 annually
  • Is over age 55 (which is demographically older for parents of grade-school kids, but could include grandparents who buy goods for their grandkids)
  • Owns their own home
  • Is married

Interestingly, MaxPoint pegs seasonal spenders as suffering from allergies and loving NASCAR. They’re also into fixing up their homes (that’s where a big chunk of their household budget goes) and saving for retirement (so they’re always looking for value in back-to-school shopping). They tend to live in Charleston, W.Va., Eureka, Calif., and Madison, Wis.

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The year-round back-to-school spender, meanwhile, earns more money — about $100,000 annually — and is “highly educated.” They’re younger, ranging between the ages of 35 and 44, and more plugged into critical issues such as the economy and stock market. They are far more likely to shop at high-end retail outlets and to shop for back-to-school goods online.

Geographically, there seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to the year-round shopper. He or she lives in Baltimore, Savannah, Ga., and Flagstaff, Ariz.


Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The He is a former Wall Street bond trader.