September was the Tipping Point for Traditional Supplies Sales this Back-to-School Season

Trends and Technology Continue to Play a Bigger Role in What’s Cool in School

Port Washington, NY, October 18, 2017 – Sales of traditional supplies for the 2017 back-to-school season amounted to $4.2 billion in the U.S., a 1 percent increase over 2016*, according to global information company The NPD Group. With more dollars being spent in the latter part of the season, September was the catalyst of growth, as it drove sales for the entire season through September 23.   

Coinciding with the tax free holiday shift in Texas, dollar sales peaked during the week ending August 12, making the peak one week earlier than last year; however, the largest gains came in the week ending September 9 – the first full week of September, when the post-Labor Day students returned to school. The brick-and-mortar channel experienced its strongest sales performance during this week, as it accounted for 85 percent of the absolute dollar growth. The industry was given another lift the following week, and an even greater boost approaching the tail end of September.


“The seasonal lines of back-to-school are shifting, as September has become increasingly important to this shopping season. For the school and office supplies industry, September had a critical impact on back-to-school’s success this year,” said Tia Frapolli, president and office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group. “Varying school start dates around the country and changes to tax free holidays play into this shift, and reinforce the importance of engaging consumers in the right place, at the right time.”   

Back-to-school purchase highlights

Inspired by the slime trend which NPD began to follow last winter, glue was a hot commodity for back-to-school 2017. Glue sales increased by 39 percent compared to last year, and contributed $52 million of the total dollars gained during the season. Also among the top growing products based on sales were traditional pens, mechanical pencils, appointment books/planners, and spiral notebooks. On the other hand, comparing against the adult coloring trend of 2016, sales of coloring and art products such as colored pencils and coloring pages declined. Presentation/reference/binders were the biggest driver of decline this season, and among other items on this list were encased pencils, loose filler paper, and composition notebooks.  

“As technology continues to become more prevalent in the classroom, the needs of students are slowly changing and impacting the products they buy – especially when it comes to school supplies,” said Frapolli. “With this shift also comes the opportunity to further develop activity-driven products that create experiences and physical engagement, which cannot be easily replaced by technology.”


Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Retail Tracking Service, 13 weeks ending September 23, 2017 (excluding Janitorial & Breakroom)

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