Of course I expect to add a futon and 32-inch television to my grocery list, buying them along with the usual fruits and vegetables, breakfast cereal, milk and coffee at the supermarket.
But if I had a college-bound teen who wanted to make a dorm or apartment more home-like, I could turn to nontraditional channels such as grocers Price Chopper and ShopRite — or even drugstore chain Rite Aid — for the products.
Dorm and apartment furnishings are a hot category in back-to-school spending this year, according to the National Retail Federation, which surveys consumers to draw up annual projections on what kind of revenue boost stores might expect. The late-summer rush for school clothing and supplies is important to retailers’ bottom lines, ranking second behind the Christmas holiday season.
Overall back-to-school spending this year won’t match 2012’s record high, the Washington, D.C.-based NRF reported, as concerns over the economy remain. Combined purchases for the K-12 and college crowd still could reach $72.5 billion, though, versus last year’s $83.7 billion.
Families will spend an average $836 on their college-aged child for clothes, electronics, shoes and other items, according to the NRF, with expenditures flat or down slightly in most categories. But there will be an uptick in spending on furnishings — which includes bedding and small appliances — to $105 this year, from $100 in 2012.
Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for NRF, explained the reason for that on a conference call with reporters: “It’s not your parents’ apartment anymore.” Gone are the days when students were content to head to college with “a bed in a bag,” she said. Nowadays, college-bound Millennials “really want that fashion-forward-type apartment and dorm,” Grannis said.
“We’re going to continue to see retailers enter this space as they really try and attract these young adults,” she said, who “really love personal style.” Millennials as a group number some 79 million — larger than the 76 million-strong baby-boom generation that companies catered to for so many years — so it’s no wonder they’re getting noticed.
Retailers want “to tap into the savvy-style Millennials,” Grannis said. “It’s a huge time of year for retailers and it’s important to be in the space if they can — which is why we see retailers like drugstores and even specialty home-furnishing stores now catering to this segment.”
Indeed, Rite Aid announced in late July the addition of “hundreds of new college-living essentials” to its stores, including expanded lines of domestics and accessories for electronics.
According to the NRF survey, some 18 percent of respondents said they will shop at a drugstore for back-to-college needs. Discount stores and department stores, though, lead the pack in where to shop for the college-bound.
And while supermarkets don’t show up as a destination in the survey, a look at this week’s Price Chopper and ShopRite sales fliers show the grocers, too, want a piece of the action.
They’re selling TVs and coffeemakers; rugs, sheet sets, pillows and bath towels; futons, bookcases and dinettes. In the stores, the products take floor space devoted to other seasonal merchandise at other times of the year. The inventory is limited — but then so is the back-to-school season.
Mona Golub, spokeswoman for the Schenectady-based Price Chopper chain, said the company’s back-to-college focus is several years old, but product variety has expanded to meet demand.
“Business is all about relevance,” she said.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.