Sales are plummeting for one back-to-school item

Saving On Back To School Shopping

Tablet sales have been shrinking for some time, but there's fresh evidence that the market for the devices is in distress:

Shoppers spending big on back-to-school gadgets expect to buy more external hard drives than new tablets, according to a new survey.

And even while spending on back-to-school tech is expected to surge, spending on tablets for school is falling.

Back-to-school is the second-most important season for gadget sellers behind the end-of-year holidays. The survey, by the Consumer Technology Association, found that consumers expect to spend $18.5 billion this year on calculators, laptops, and other gadgets, outpacing last year by 6.2%.

Practicality seems to be the driving factor behind the most-desired gadgets, with 71% of consumers saying they will buy portable memory, and 55% saying they will buy a calculator.

Overall, the optimism bodes well for tech makers and sellers, the CTA says.

"Early back-to-school promotions are building interest and momentum for the second-largest shopping event of the year," said Steve Koenig, senior director of market research for CTA, in a prepared statement. "Deals on the tech items for back-to-school including 2-1 laptops, Bluetooth speakers, headphones, tablets and more are creating excitement among consumers. This consumer enthusiasm also bodes well for tech sales across the second half of the year."

On the other hand, while 44% say they'll buy a new laptop, only half that number, 22%, will buy a tablet.

Here's the CTA's list of top 10 gadgets that back-to-school shoppers expect to buy:

  1. Portable memory (71%)
  2. Basic calculator (55%)
  3. Headphones (52%)
  4. Scientific/graphing calculator (51%)
  5. Carrying or protective case (48%)
  6. Laptop (44%)
  7. Software for computer (39%)
  8. External hard drive (23%)
  9. Tablet (22%)
  10. Product subscription service (22%)

The poor tablet results square with sales figures from market researcher IDC, which has reported tablets falling out of favor for more than a year. In its latest research, IDC said that tablet shipments fell 12% compared to the same quarter last year. Only tablets that mimic laptops — sometimes called detachables — saw growth, but those still represent a small portion of the tablet market.

See the top tips for saving on school supplies below:

Budget Better: 11 tips to save on school supplies shopping
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Budget Better: 11 tips to save on school supplies shopping

#1: Collect miscellaneous supplies from junk drawers, closets, and other spaces around your home before you start shopping.
You'll more than likely find that you already have more supplies lying around than you realize. 

Photo credit: Getty

#2: Head to the dollar store for the most generic items.
There's no such thing as better quality for brand name when it comes to basic necessities like pencils and pens.

Photo credit: Getty

#3: Avoid on-trend and themed items, like pencil cases and notebooks.
Not only will they cost you more, but these items won't hold interest through the years --opt for solid colors and basic patterns.

Photo credit: Getty

#4: Leave the kids at home.
The cardinal rule for saving money at the grocery store applies to school supply shopping as well.

Photo credit: Getty

#5: Apply the hand-me-down principle to sturdy and long-lasting items like backpacks and calculators.
If you've already made the investment, make the most of it.

Photo credit: Getty

#6: Buy the cheapest items you find in bulk.
If certain items are much cheaper than you budgeted for, buy one or two extra if you can spare -- it'll save you money down the road when the price might bump.

Photo credit: Getty

#7: Rent (instead of purchasing full-priced) bigger and more expensive items that will vary from year to year.
Think graphing calculators for specific math classes, textbooks, etc.

Photo credit: Getty

#8: Save items that will always be available for last-minute.
Though items like notebooks and binders may sell out, wait to purchase basic supplies like pencils and paper clips in order to avoid overpaying in the whirlwind of buying all your supplies at once.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

#9: Stick to your list.
Write down exactly what you need, cross of as you go and resist the temptation to deviate.

Photo credit: Getty

#10: Shop at more than one store.
Pick and choose which stores you'll buy certain items at -- it's the only guaranteed way for you to make sure you're getting the best deal on each specific item.

Photo credit: Getty

#11: Don't fall for every bulk deal.
While 10 boxes of pens for a seemingly low price might seem like a great deal, check to see how much you would really be saying per unit -- often, it's only a couple of cents and you end up spending much more up front for more supplies than you need.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


"The market has spoken as consumers and enterprises seek more productive form factors and operating systems — it's the reason we're seeing continued growth in detachables," Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC, said in a report.

In the end, tablets have struggled to find a place as a third gadget in consumers' lives, alongside personal computers and mobile phones. In addition, larger phones that can do almost everything tablets can have squeezed out tablets. Also, when tablet sales first started to slump back in 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained that upgrade cycles for tablets had been longer than expected, and definitely longer than cell phones. Consumers who bought one tablet didn't see the need to upgrade.

Still overall, both Synchrony Financial and the Consumer Technology Association predict brisk tech sales this August. Synchrony, which predicted an overall sales increase of 2.7%-3.7%, said spending on tech will rival spending on new clothes.

Remember, if you're looking to buy new gadgets this school year, it's important to stay on budget. High credit card balances and other debts can damage your credit. To see how your debts and spending habits are affecting your finances, you can view your free credit report summary, updated each month, on And, if you've already overspent, you can read this guide for tips on getting out of debt.

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