Is it Back to Normal for Back-to-School Shopping? Here’s What the Research Says

Posted by Op4G Staff on September 8, 2021


It's the most wonderful time of the year—the time when kids return to school! Much has changed since last September. Approximately 174 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, millions of households have received government stimulus checks, and in-person learning is set to resume in large swaths of the nation. How will these factors impact back-to-school shopping? Market research has the answers…

According to the latest research released by the National Retail Federation, consumers plan to spend more this year on back-to-school items—in fact, they will break the all-time high! For children in elementary and high school, spending will average $848.90 on school items, $59 more than last year. At the college level, spending will average $1200, $141 more than in 2020. Combined, this will equate to an astounding $108.1 billion in total spending across the US! To cover or offset this cost, 43% of shoppers plan to tap into their stimulus checks from Uncle Sam.

National Retail Federation: Planned back-to-school spending chartSource: National Retail Federation

Harkening back to the good old days (pre-pandemic), consumers plan to spend their money on “standard back-to-school fare." In lieu of hand sanitizer and home office equipment, clothing and accessories will be the most popular products (as kids will “no longer be floating heads on Zoom calls”). Other top sellers will include school supplies, books, and electronics. And for college students finally heading or returning to campus, dorm/apartment furnishings will be hot! 

As for timing, more than half of parents started their back-to-school shopping in July (excited much?). About a quarter, however, began shopping “in earnest” in August. Finally, students purchasing items for themselves are most likely to “wait until the last minute." So college kids don’t just procrastinate on homework!

To make their purchases, 77% of buyers plan to shop in person, reflecting increasing comfort in leaving the house. Still, online shopping—which jumped in popularity during the pandemic—will remain “a top destination for back-to-school shopping." This is particularly true for college students. A full 65% of the tech-savvy cohort plans to shop via the web.  

These consumer insights have clearly shaped retailers’ decisions. Walmart, for example, set up its back-to-school displays “roughly six weeks earlier than in a normal year." Target has offered massive sales on children’s clothing, including their school uniform items. And Bed, Bath, & Beyond launched a private label line of bedding and bathroom items for college students.

So what does the future hold for your target market? What are the emerging trends? How have your customers changed—or stayed the same? For the answers, invest in consumer research through Op4G! Contact today for more details. 

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Topics: Consumer Research