Back-to-School 2021

Parents and students are hungry to shop till they drop

School supplies in 2020 meant slippers, sweatpants, laptops, headphones, printers and desks. This coming fall we’re looking to see a return to traditional back-to-school categories like dorm décor and apparel. Forecasters anticipate a 5.5% increase YOY for back-to-school shopping this year – and with new habits, learnings and options available to shoppers, the battle for the market basket will soon be in full swing.

Thankfully, after a long hard year of remote and hybrid learning, the majority of families are preparing for a return to in-person learning come fall. More than 70% of consumers surveyed by Shopkick are planning to send their kids back to the classroom. And after missing out last year, most parents and students are looking beyond the pandemic – which means some emotions will be in the mix when it’s time to shop.

If the last year taught us one thing, it was how to shop conveniently, and to safely ensure we got what we wanted – and that it was delivered where and when we wanted it. Heading into the fall, shoppers are expected to use e-commerce transactions more than before, but as normal routines resume, retailers also anticipate an influx of in-store shopping. Parents are ready to make the trek to brick & mortar locations to let kids pick out in person the designs and goodies their hearts desire.

The last year has also taught us that availability isn’t as reliable as it once was. Shoppers know that getting the goods they want means getting a jump on the competition. In fact, 19% of shoppers have already gotten a head start on back-to-school shopping, with 70% saying they’ll shop mid-July and into early August to make sure they find (and get) what they need.

Parents know that a year missed means replenishing supplies that weren’t needed last year. Apparel sales are expected to be 60% of the pocketbook with 78% YOY increases expected in the category, as students move from sweats and pajamas back into fashion and trends. Basic school supplies will represent 25% of the budget – lunch boxes, notebooks, pens and backpacks that went un-purchased last year are now on the list – in addition to new basics like hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes. And while technology needs are not going away, only 10% of budgets are pointed to this category for the coming school year, significantly lower than last year.

As consumers look to the next few months, a large majority aren’t planning to cut their BTS budgets – in fact, 42% of shoppers are planning on spending up to $300 for supplies with another 33% planning to spend over $400 for needed (and wanted) products. That all said, with an ongoing stretch on personal finances, 70% say that their number one priority is to get the best price in order to afford everything on their list.

So how are retailers preparing? Well, they’re refining their e-commerce platforms, improving their fulfillment and delivery solutions, and prepping their brick and mortars as they see increased in-store foot traffic. Big box retailers will most likely be the big winners, with Amazon having impact given the omnichannel consumer of the past year. But department stores and mall-based retailers will likely make significant plays to steal back the share of wallet that was once theirs.

As the back-to-school battle plays out, retailers who leverage learnings of the past year will drive and gain much desired multi-channel sales. In addition, we’ll see big wins for consumers who take advantage of the deal-seeking environment, making their shopping tools work for them – and conquering the back-to-school season with a vengeance. The huge opportunities this back-to-school season represents are indicative of an ever-changing consumer landscape brands see before them.

At Unbound, our highly experienced strategic team, paired with our deep research tools and proprietary customer targeting process, makes us poised to help brands make the most of shifting consumer opportunities – whether this back-to-school season or beyond.

Give us a call at 816.589.3333, and let’s set up 30 minutes to talk about the opportunities we see for your brand.