Generation Alpha is already impacting back-to-class shopping

Retail Gets Real Episode 313: GfK’s Rachel Bonsignore on what’s driving back-to-school shopping this season
Sheryll Poe
NRF Contributor
July 25, 2023

Summer is halfway over, and parents and students are already looking forward to — and shopping for — the next school year.

In fact, back-to-school spending is expected to reach an unparalleled $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion last year. Back-to-college spending is expected to hit $94 billion, about $20 billion more than last year’s record.

What or who is driving this record-breaking back-to-class shopping season? According to the latest consumer research from GfK and NRF, it’s Generation Alpha and Generation Z.

“There are two audiences we wanted to talk about today,” GfK Consumer Life Vice President Rachel Bonsignore says on this episode of Retail Gets Real. “One of them is actually still too young to be in our survey, but everyone is already starting to talk about them. And that’s Gen Alpha.”


Check out NRF's latest Insights and take a deep dive into the 2023 back-to-class season.

GfK roughly defines Generation A as those in the three-to-12 age group, she says: “Prime school age.”

Generation Z, meanwhile, is in the college-student age range. “They will soon be or already are coming into their own in terms of purchasing power,” she says.

Retailers can learn a lot about Gen A’s purchasing trends through their millennial parents, Bonsignore says. “Gen Alpha parents are more likely than average to be concerned about all sorts of financial issues that affect them personally. Things like housing costs, their credit rating, their level of debt, but also in larger matters that really affect the marketplace as a whole, like fears of recession or economic polarization.”

In contrast, Gen Z is less concerned than the average American about economic matters. “They’ve grown up in a really unstable couple of decades and they’re really used to a lot of these issues,” she says. “They don’t feel that they’re necessarily yet in the workforce or financially independent, so they don’t think it affects them as much.”

Generation Z is more concerned about societal issues like race relations, gender inequality and climate change rather than economic issues, Bonsignore says.

“It was just such a dramatic difference, how much lower than average college students were on economic concerns and how much higher than average they were on social worries,” she says about the latest research. “We know this is a socially conscious group, but the data was very striking in just the divergence of those things compared to your average American.”

Despite economic and social concerns, both groups are still shopping, even if that means cutting back or making trade-offs in certain purchase categories, Bonsignore says. “People still do really love to spend. They love to consume, especially at certain points in the year where their brains are trained to pay more attention to sales and promotions and products they’ve been keeping their eye on.”

Listen to the full episode to learn more about the back-to-class shopping season, including the lingering pandemic effect and the different motivations driving millennial and Gen Z shoppers. For more data and insights on this year’s back-to-class shopping season, check out NRF’s Back-to-School headquarters.

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