Back to School Spending: Retail’s Learning Curve

by | 30 June 2021

Target, Walmart and others went head-to-head with Amazon Prime this month to grab their share of early back-to-school spending. According to RetailMeNot, 92% of U.S. consumers were likely to use Amazon Prime Day 2021 (and competitor shopping days) to stock up on back-to-school items. However, it is unclear what percentage of the 250 million SKUs sold fall into the category. In addition, e-commerce is cutting back when we look at a percentage of total sales with Q2 2021 at 13.6% compared to Q2 2020 at 16.1%, showing the need for brick-and-mortar.  

According to a forecast by Mastercard SpendingPulse, back-to-school sales in the U.S. are expected to grow 6.7% from 2019 and 5.5% from last year’s Covid days–roughly estimated at 35.9 billion. With the nation’s cities actively reopening their economies amid CDC activity recommendations, foot traffic to retail corridors will likely increase, with initial data hinting at a 44% increase in visits. The National Retail Federation (NRF) adjusted its 2021 outlook with estimated retail sales between $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion.

Recess Is Over

After 18 months of e-learning, students across the board are itching to start the school year anew, sparking a new level of excitement for back-to-school shopping.

Over 64% of back-to-school shopper households expect their students to return to in-person classes. Most students are excited to shop for shoes, apparel and sports equipment, with clothing and accessories at the top of most kids’ wish lists. Analysts project that retailers will see a 78% increase in apparel sales compared to 2020. Back-to-school deals will continue to include tech and electronics, with school curriculums depending on things like “Chromebooks, laptops and smart home speakers” to supplement a hybrid learning environment. Mask requirements fluctuate state by state, making it unclear if parents and their students prioritize PPE supplies.

The Core Subject: Omnichannel Meets Gen-Z

In a recent survey conducted by Waze, a GPS navigation software app, 60% of U.S. consumers intend to make apparel purchases equally in-store or online. A signal for retailers to optimize omnichannel strategies like click-and-collect, curbside pick-up and digital-out-of-home advertising to maintain and increase traffic to stores.

If they haven’t already, retailers will need to up their game on social networks like Snapchat, or TikTok, frequented by Gen-Z, a demographic that holds the purse strings on $140 billion of retail spending power. Afterpay reports that the majority (97%) of Gen-Z shoppers use social media to figure out what to buy, and they are pretty vocal about the platforms they love: 59% percent of Snapchat users expressed how they use the platform as a channel for both inspiration and purchases. The network’s influence isn’t on students alone; 79% of parents on Snapchat refer to posts shared by their family and friends when shopping back to school.

Stay tuned for future posts on upcoming retail insights on store openings and purchasing trends. Follow me on Twitter @anjeesolankiCRE to weigh in on the conversation.