Class of its own

Best Buy sales associate Kerstin Adams helps Hayden Douglas, 18, of New Enterprise (with sister Myah, 11) with the purchase of a new laptop. Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec

Back to school shopping season is big to merchants, but it is not Christmas.

According to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics, total spending for K-12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $82.8 billion, nearly as high as last year’s $83.6 billion.

“It is huge. We do the majority of our PC revenue during back to school,” said Matthew Rickabaugh, assistant store manager at Best Buy in Logan Town Centre.

“Back to school is significant, but it is not Black Friday. It is short of the holidays, but it is big,” said Ed Elko, senior vice president of human resources at Boscov’s, which has a store in Logan Town Centre.

The National Retail Federation expects a strong back to school shopping season.

“College spending is expected to be at its highest level ever, and back-to-school will be one of the three highest years on record. Whether shoppers buy now or wait until the last minute, retailers are ready with everything they need for a successful start of the school year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a statement.

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $684.79 each, compared with last year’s $687.72 for a total of $27.5 billion. That’s the third-highest total in the history of the survey following a peak of $30.3 billion in 2012 and last year’s

$29.5 billion.

Those with young people heading to college as well as college and graduate students purchasing for themselves plan to spend an average $942.17 each, down from last year’s $969.88 for a total of $55.3 billion, the survey said.

The survey also found that more consumers are starting early. Most back-to-school shoppers (77 percent) plan to start at least three weeks before school begins, up from last year’s 74 percent and 64 percent a decade ago. Moreover, 67 percent of college shoppers will start that early, the same as last year but up from 51 percent in 2008.

However, back to school shopping can begin as early as June.

“Back to school shopping differs region to region as not all schools go back to school at the same time. According to our research, in some parts of the country, people start back to school shopping as early as the last week in June,” said Meghan McCarrick, Staples spokeswoman.

“They usually start a couple of weeks before school starts, but we were seeing it earlier than in the past. Customers tell me they just want to get it done early. We just had our Black Friday in July and Bonus Bucks promotions, so they took advantage of those. We are usually busiest about two weeks to 10 days before the start of school,” said Jaime Genovese-Peterson, assistant manager of merchandise and operations at J.C. Penney in the Logan Valley Mall.

With classes set to begin Aug. 20 at Penn State Altoona, Rickabaugh expects to be busy very soon.

“Back to school starts to pick up about the second week of August. The busiest time will be move-in weekend and the weekend after that,” Rickabaugh said.

According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend the most on clothing.

“Our customers are buying everything they need to get their kids ready for the new school year — jeans, polo shirts, white T-shirts, school uniforms and more. This year, we are excited to not only offer basics, but also trends from our new private brands in apparel, Wonder Nation,” said Erin Hulliberger, Walmart spokeswoman.

“Black and white is making a huge comeback for both girls and boys. This color scheme makes for a cool and modern approach for no-stress dressing. The trend allows for students to easily incorporate their personal style with graphic T-shirts, athleisure and letterman-style jackets,” said Glenn Boss, vice president and store manager at Macy’s in the Logan Valley Mall.

Denims and graphic T-shirts are hot at J.C. Penney.

“They meet the dress code and go with everything. We are also selling a lot of name brand backpacks; they are just flying out of here,” Genovese-Peterson said.

Electronics are always popular, but have dropped a bit in popularity for back to school.

“The biggest change we are seeing in back-to-school spending this year is coming from electronics,” NRF Vice President for Research Mark Mathews said in a statement. “Items like laptops, tablets and smartphones are now an everyday part of household life and aren’t necessarily a purchase parents save for the start of the school year, resulting in the slight decrease in spending for this category.”

However, unlike back-to-schoolers, college shoppers will spend the most on electronics.

Best Buy has several popular items.

“We sell lots of smart home stuff like smart lights and voice assisted items like Amazon Echo for dorm rooms. Smart TVs are huge. A lot of parents buy them but keep them and give the students their old TVs,” Rickabaugh said.

Also, 2-in-1 touch screen laptops are popular for college students.

“A 2-in-1 could be great for high school students as well. One of the biggest things is the integration of eco-systems, where a phone, iPad and laptop will work off the same operating system,” Rickabaugh said. “We also sell lots of coffee makers.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.