Back-to-school spend expected to drop 21%

A new survey finds certain categories could be harder hit than others, though Quebec seems slightly more resilient.

back to school image

According to the latest insights from the Retail Council of Canada, spending on back-to-school will drop by nearly 21% year-over-year, to an average of $727 per household in 2020, compared to $919 in 2019. 

The RCC’s new survey, conducted by Leger, tapped 1513 respondents earlier this month.

It found that when it comes to anticipated back to school purchases, every category is facing considerable declines – save for health-related products. Electronics and apparel are showing the largest decrease, dipping by an average of $46 and $31 per household, respectively. Average spend on furniture is expected to dip by an average of $23, while the school supplies, sporting goods and book categories are all anticipating a $17 drop.

In addition to average spend being down, consumers are avoiding one category more than others. In 2019, 78% of shoppers were planning to buy new apparel or footwear; that number has dipped to 69% this year, while that rate in other categories has remained relatively stable.

Back to school shoppers are buying more online this year versus the same period last year. Although in store remains the more popular method to shop for back to school items, more are turning to online for apparel and footwear, electronics, school supplies and books and movies, and health related products than previously (see below, where red bars represent in-store and black bars online shopping).


This is a trend expected across all regions, except for Quebec, where spending overall is expected to have a smaller decrease than the rest of the country. This is likely linked to back to school worries: previous Leger insights found that Quebeckers are considerably less worried about their children going to school (56%) than the rest of Canada (64%).

Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents say health and safety protocols are having more of an influence on their decisions about where to purchase back to school items this year. About half say free shipping and ability to buy online or pick up in store is having an increased influence on where they buy, versus last year.