Shoppers in the U.S. are expected to spend $29.5 billion during the back-to-school shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation.

Retailers that offer free shipping and in-store pickup of online orders should receive a higher grade from shoppers during the back-to-school shopping season.

Data from the National Retail Federation, in conjunction with Prosper Insights and Analytics, shows that 91% of all U.S. consumers who will buy online intend to use retailers’ free shipping offers, while 54% plan on picking up online orders in a store. Prosper and the NRF surveyed 7,226 U.S. shoppers from June 30-July 5.

Back-to-school spending is second only to the holiday season for online and store retailers, making it a crucial time for many merchants.

Back-to-school spending for kindergarten through high school students is expected to increase to $29.5 billion, up 8.1% from $27.3 billion last year. This marks the highest level of spending during the back-to-school shopping season since 2012, when shoppers spent $30.3 billion. 46% of all shoppers say they plan to shop online this year, which is the same as last year, according to the NRF survey.

For college students, back-to-school spending is expected to hit a record, at $54.1 billion, up 11.6% from $48.5 billion last year and surpassing a record $53.5 billion in 2012, the NRF says, noting that higher college enrollments are helping to drive that increase. 44% of those shoppers will buy online.

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“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 throughout the rest of the year,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said.

Meanwhile, a separate survey by Deloitte of 1,200 parents of school-age children, conducted from May 31-June 6, offers more insight into the mindset of the online back-to-school shopper.

Deloitte’s data shows that 63% of those surveyed say they will buy online from a retailer that offers free shipping, while 38% would rather buy from a retailer that offers buy online, pick up in store service. 56% will research products online before deciding whether or not to buy in store.

Deloitte’s survey also finds:

  • When it comes to shoppers who will spend more than $475 on back-to-school items, 24% of their budget will be spent online, compared with 54% in stores and 23% uncertain. Percentages are rounded.
  • For shoppers spending $250 to$475, 16% will be spent online while 63% will be spent in stores and 21% uncertain.
  • For shoppers spending less than $250 on back-to-school supplies, 12% will be spent online, 68% in stores and 20% uncertain.

Overall, Deloitte’s data shows that shoppers are expected to spend an average of $103 online during the back-to-school shopping period, compared with $288 in stores. 36% of respondents say they will buy from online-only retailers.

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