2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

Excitement Over In-Person Learning Drives Early Start to Back-to-School Shopping Season

Although it feels like school just ended, retailers are already gearing up for back-to-school with uniforms on full display and back-to-school online deals.  Back-to-school is retail’s second biggest spending event of the year. Shopping appears to have started early this year, as emotions run high, and many look forward to returning to in-classroom learning.   

Projected Spend among Families K-12

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

Projected Spend among Families of College Students

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

According to a study done by NRF, 64% of back-to-school and college shoppers expect classes to be in-person this coming year,  and over half (51%) had already started shopping for school supplies as of early July.  However, on average, shoppers had just completed 18% of their total back-to-school purchases, indicating a lot of shopping will happen in July and August.

Overall, spend is projected to be up versus last year, with K-12 shoppers spending $37.1 billion this year (up from $33.9 billion in 2020), and college shoppers driving an additional $71 billion (up from $67.7 billion in 2020).

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

Below is a quick snapshot of what to expect, as we get closer to August and students prepare to kick off the new school year.   

Back To School Trend: Parents Embrace Online Deals and Convenience

The COVID pandemic fundamentally changed shopping behaviors – with many choosing to shop online for the first time due to safety concerns. In 2020, over half (55%) of back-to-school shoppers planned to shop online, and we expect that habit is here to stay. According to a forecast by Mastercard SpendingPulse, eCommerce sales are expected to take a dip versus last year but will still be 53% higher than 2019’s back to school season. Unsurprisingly, top online retailers for back-to-school include Target, Walmart, and Amazon, each with dedicated online back-to-school sections and deals.

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?
2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

According to a recent survey done by KPMG, 39% of consumers expect items will cost more due to inflation this year.  Not surprising then,  61% are looking for deals and planned to shop during major sales events such as Prime Day, 4th of July and the upcoming Labor Day sales.

Online is also set to make a big impact from an influencer standpoint, with Millennial parents and 69% of Gen Z college students looking online for shopping inspiration and research. This presents an opportunity for brands to authentically connect with consumers and tell diverse stories via influencer marketing.

Back to School Trend: Students Dress to Impress

“I am nervous about my kids returning back-to-school – but, last year was tough.  They are looking forward to it, and I plan to go back-to-school shopping with them to get them excited buying them clothes and backpacks since last year we basically didn’t do any of that.”

– Bertha Estrada, parent of 15-year-old and 9-year-old

Last year, top ticket items were laptops and electronics to accommodate remote learning.  But as students shift from remote learning to in-person, so will their spending, and this year is set to be a big year for apparel.  According to an NRF study, 49% of parents with school-aged children indicated their children are most excited about shopping for back-to-school clothing and accessories,  with many wanting a new wardrobe to complement a fresh start.  That, coupled with the rapid rate at which kids grow, will result in particularly strong sales for back-to-school apparel versus 2020 and 2019

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

There is pent-up demand for new attire and accessories, and this is the once space where back-to-school shoppers are most excited about browsing and shopping in-store. 

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

Back to School Trend: Accounting for the NEW Items

Similar to last year, sanitizers, disinfectant/antibacterial wipes, and masks are slated to make the back-to-school list for parents this year as COVID concerns remain strong, particularly among parents of unvaccinated children.  Amazon is making a push in this space with bulk offerings.

2021 Back-to-School Trends: Gearing up for Another Record Year?

Also growing in popularity are antimicrobial backpacks and lunchboxes, which claim to minimize the growth of bacteria. While the verdict is still out on these emerging products, what remains true is that safety and hygiene concerns are still in the minds of parents, and they will stock-up as students return back to classrooms.

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