Last summer, parents of college students said they planned to spend just 48% of their back-to-school shopping budgets in brick-and-mortar stores, according to Deloitte's annual Back-to-College survey. Of the remaining 52%, they said they expected to spend about half online, with the other half up for grabs.

The survey's numbers look fairly similar this year, but there's a twist. Despite what is often viewed as the inexorable rise of e-commerce, the shopping pendulum appears poised to swing back a bit toward brick-and-mortar stores.

For the 2018 back-to-school season, parents of collegians are forecast to spend about $25.5 billion, and they say they expect to spend an average  of 54% of their budgets -- $13.8 billion -- at physical retailers. By contrast, they anticipate spending $6.1 billion online. The remaining $5.6 billion, they know they plan to spend, but don't know yet where.

"This decline in digital usage for back-to-college shoppers could be a sign that consumers desire innovation with their digital shopping interactions," said Deloitte Vice Chairman Rod Sides in a press release. "It provides an opportunity for retailers to define innovation at the intersection of technology, engagement, and decision making in the coming years."

A woman is seen with a backpack.

For some, back-to-college spending has already started. Image source: Getty Images.

It's a family affair

While mom and dad may be footing a large share of the bill -- 80% say they'll be covering more than half of the back-to-college purchases -- their offspring are taking an active role in what's being purchased. According to the report, 82% of parents  expect to collaborate in the shopping process with their children.

And the majority do expect their offspring to contribute. About 22% of parents anticipated a student contribution in the 1% to 10% range; 22% expected 11% to 24% of the money spent to come from their child; and 19% expected their kid to kick in up to half. Only 2% of college students won't be getting any parental help, while another 16% of students will foot more than half the bill themselves. Only 17% of parents said they didn't expect their kids to pitch in at all.

The season is now

In general, college students return to campus between mid- and late August. That's earlier than most elementary and secondary school students' summers end -- though some school districts in Southern states do reopen as early as mid-August. But in the main, that schedule pushes the bulk of the collegiate spending into the earlier part of back-to-school season.

"According to parents surveyed, 68% plan to start their back-to-college shopping before August," said Deloitte Customer Engagement Leader Lokesh Ohri in the press release.

These early shoppers are also important since they plan to spend 35% more than those who say they won't start shopping until August. That makes it imperative for both traditional stores and digital retailers to put their best feet forward early.

Have a plan

As is the case with any type of significant spending, it's important for parents and their college-student children to make a budget. First, you need to figure out the fixed costs. Book prices, for example, may be highly variable (used versus new, renting versus buying), but you can't entirely skip that expense. The same might be true for a laptop or tablet -- the amount you decide to spend may vary, but if you need the item, you have to buy it.

Once you've locked down a budget for necessities, your family will have a clearer idea of what's left to spend on discretionary items. Both parents and their children should try to be disciplined in their approach, and check their options. E-commerce sites, for example, might allow you to lower certain travel costs by shipping items directly to dorm rooms. Buying from a brick-and-mortar chain, though, allows for hands-on trials, which means a lower likelihood of needing to return something to a store that may not be easily accessible to the student.

Regardless of what you've planned, don't be married to either brick-and-mortar or an online retailer for any particular purchase. Shop wherever you can find the right deals and the appropriate convenience for your situation -- and your collegian's.

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