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Everything you need to make the right decisions

Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the Back to School Shopping - US market, and the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

Mintel has the answers you’re looking for

What are the key challenges facing the industry? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

Key points included

  • Shopping influencers
  • What consumers plan to buy
  • What consumers want from retailers and why

Covered in this report

The peak back-to-school shopping timeframe occurs each year in July and August. It’s the second-highest salesgenerating retail period behind the winter holidays and was expected to garner more than $80 billion in 2019. Nearly every parent with school-aged children participates, as do college students themselves. It’s a prime time for retailers and brands to establish or deepen relationships with consumers that span generations.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Diana Smith, a leading analyst in the Retail sector, her extensive knowledge delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

Consumers spend more than $80 billion getting themselves and their children ready to go back to school. They’re mission oriented and bargain hungry and favor retailers who can help them accomplish their goals of saving time and/or money. While BTS (back to school) is a busy time, most shoppers have an optimistic mindset toward it and think it’s fun. A scenario in which consumers have open wallets and open minds creates the perfect environment for retailers to amplify the fun aspect through experiential retailing, build customer relationships and establish loyalties that can last far after the school year begins Diana Smith
Associate Director - Retail & Apparel

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What's included

What's included

Table of contents

Table of contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Definition
      • Executive Summary

        • Overview
          • Spending expectations
            • What you want to know
              • What we see
                • Overall shopping participation
                  • What you want to know
                    • What we see
                      • Where BTS shoppers shop
                        • What you want to know
                          • What we see
                            • When BTS shoppers shop
                              • What you want to know
                                • What we see
                                  • What consumers plan to buy
                                    • What you want to know
                                      • What we see
                                        • Shopping influencers
                                          • What you want to know
                                            • What we see
                                              • What consumers want from retailers and why
                                                • What you want to know
                                                  • What we see
                                                    • What it means
                                                    • The Market – What You Need to Know

                                                      • Spending expectations for 2019 were high, but fell below 2018
                                                        • Majority of BTS budgets spent on clothes and electronics
                                                          • Youth population shrinking
                                                            • Macroeconomic factors bode well for BTS, at least for now
                                                              • Enrollment levels have not recovered from the 2011 peak
                                                              • Market Size

                                                                • Fewer shoppers in the market led to a reduction in spend for 2019/20
                                                                    • Figure 1: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, in current dollars, 2014-19
                                                                  • College spending represents two thirds of the total
                                                                    • Figure 2: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, in current dollars, 2014-19
                                                                  • Many factors could impact spend for 2020/21 but expenditures should go up slightly
                                                                  • Market Breakdown

                                                                    • Expectations for 2019 per-household spending reached new heights
                                                                      • Figure 3: Consumers’ expected back-to-school (elementary-high school) and back-to-college average spending per household, in current dollars, 2014-19
                                                                    • Most money is spent on clothing and electronics
                                                                      • Figure 4: Expected back-to-school (K-12) household share of spend, by category, 2019
                                                                      • Figure 5: Expected back-to-college household share of spend, by category, 2019
                                                                      • Figure 6: Consumers' expected back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending per household, by primary category, in current dollars, 2019
                                                                  • Market Factors

                                                                    • The population
                                                                      • Households with children drop below 30%
                                                                        • Figure 7: Share of households with related children, by race and Hispanic origin of householder, 2018
                                                                      • Number of school-aged kids set to shrink
                                                                        • Figure 8: Population school-aged children, by age, 2013-23
                                                                      • More children living in atypical arrangements
                                                                        • Figure 9: Living arrangements of children under age 18, 2008 and 2018
                                                                      • The economy
                                                                        • Positive economic climate should help to bolster upcoming BTS season
                                                                          • Consumer confidence high, unemployment low
                                                                            • Figure 10: Consumer confidence and unemployment, 2000-November 2019
                                                                          • Median household income returns to pre-recession levels
                                                                            • Figure 11: Median household income, by race/Hispanic origin of householder, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2007-18
                                                                            • Figure 12: Current financial situation, by marital status by parental status of under 18 children, May 2019
                                                                          • Education
                                                                            • Parents need to be careful about budgeting as raising kids isn’t cheap
                                                                              • School enrollment up year over year, but down since the 2011 peak
                                                                                  • Figure 13: Share of school enrollment of the population 3 years old and over, by level, 2018
                                                                                  • Figure 14: Average published charges (enrollment weighted) for full-time undergraduates, 2018/19 and 2019/20
                                                                                • Online course offerings increase; online students get more local
                                                                                • Key Players – What You Need to Know

                                                                                  • Celebrities, catchy tunes and visualization tools all a part of 2019/20 campaigns
                                                                                    • Don’t forget the teachers
                                                                                      • Generation Z is a complex and dynamic bunch
                                                                                      • What Happened in 2019/20?

                                                                                        • How the big three won the season
                                                                                          • Advertiser comparison
                                                                                            • Figure 15: Top three retailers shopped in 2019/20, digital advertising spend and impression comparison – all devices and formats, July – August 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 16: Top three retailers shopped in 2019/20, digital media mix comparison based on share of impressions – all devices and formats, July-August 2019
                                                                                          • Walmart
                                                                                            • Figure 17: Walmart video ad, September 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 18: Walmart Facebook ad, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 19: Walmart Facebook post, targeted to college students, June 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 20: Walmart video ads, targeted to college students, July 2019
                                                                                          • Target
                                                                                            • Figure 21: Target video ad, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 22: Target Facebook carousel post, targeted to parents, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 23: Target video ad, first day of kindergarten, August 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 24: Target Facebook carousel post, targeted to college students, August 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 25: Target product-specific Facebook ads, July/August 2019
                                                                                          • Amazon
                                                                                            • Figure 26: Amazon :30 video ad, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 27: Amazon Facebook ad, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 28: Amazon :15 video ad - English, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 29: Amazon :15 video ad - Spanish, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 30: Amazon Prime Day video ad, July 2019
                                                                                            • Figure 31: Amazon digital ads for Amazon Student Prime, August 2019
                                                                                          • Other retailer examples
                                                                                            • Famous Footwear
                                                                                              • Figure 32: Famous Footwear Facebook ad, July 2019
                                                                                            • Office Depot
                                                                                              • Figure 33: Office Depot video ad, “Ready For This,” July 2019
                                                                                              • Figure 34: Office Depot promotional video ad featuring Sabrina Carpenter, July 2019
                                                                                            • American Eagle
                                                                                              • Figure 35: American Eagle video, July 2019
                                                                                            • Sandy Hook Promise
                                                                                              • Figure 36: Sandy Hook Promise, “Back-to-School Essentials” video public service announcement, July 2019
                                                                                          • What to Watch

                                                                                            • Teachers are an opportunity target
                                                                                              • Figure 37: Walmart Facebook post, July 2018
                                                                                              • Figure 38: Target Facebook post, July 2019
                                                                                              • Figure 39: Staples Twitter post, July 2019
                                                                                            • Understanding Gen Z values
                                                                                              • Figure 40: Best ways for brands to represent values, any rank, March 2019
                                                                                            • Sustainability
                                                                                              • Leading with conviction
                                                                                                • Cause marketing
                                                                                                  • Understanding Gen Z subcultures
                                                                                                  • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                                                                                    • Intended participation levels for upcoming year show signs of retraction
                                                                                                      • Balanced approach to shopping
                                                                                                        • Parents start shopping in June
                                                                                                          • Mass merchandisers and Amazon win the season
                                                                                                            • Most shopping occurs in the store
                                                                                                              • Clothes and supplies most likely to be purchased new
                                                                                                                • Recommendations from others drive purchasing decisions
                                                                                                                  • BTS shopping is fun
                                                                                                                    • Elevating the convenience factor, while being competitive on price
                                                                                                                    • Shopping Participation

                                                                                                                      • Key highlights
                                                                                                                        • Intent to participate tracking below 2019
                                                                                                                          • Figure 41: Shopping participation – Parents versus college students, 2019/20 compared to 2020/21, November 2019
                                                                                                                        • Parents
                                                                                                                          • For the 2019 school year, nearly all parents participated with most shopping conducted for younger children
                                                                                                                            • Figure 42: Shopping participation for 2019/20 – Parents, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                          • For the 2019 school year, a majority of parents bought new
                                                                                                                            • Figure 43: Shopping approach for 2019/20 – Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                            • Figure 44: Shopping approach for 2019/20 – Parents, by household income, November 2019
                                                                                                                          • Milestone years could signify additional needs
                                                                                                                            • Figure 45: Shopping approach for 2020/21 – Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                          • College students
                                                                                                                            • Full-time undergraduate students represent majority, tend to spend more
                                                                                                                              • Figure 46: Current college student type, November 2019
                                                                                                                            • College students bought fewer new items for the current school year
                                                                                                                              • Figure 47: Shopping approach for 2019/20 – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                            • On campus students slightly more likely to participate in 2020
                                                                                                                              • Figure 48: College student living arrangements, by intent to participate in 2020/21, November 2019
                                                                                                                          • Shopping Timeframe

                                                                                                                            • Key highlights
                                                                                                                              • Parents start shopping sooner
                                                                                                                                • Figure 49: Shopping timeframe – Parents versus college students, November 2019
                                                                                                                              • The impact of Amazon Prime Day
                                                                                                                                • Figure 50: Amazon Prime day impact – Parents versus college students, November 2019
                                                                                                                              • Tax-free holidays give shoppers a break
                                                                                                                                • Figure 51: Amazon geo-targeted email, 2018
                                                                                                                              • Parents
                                                                                                                                • Millennial parents get a jump on things
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 52: Shopping timeframe – Parents, by generation, November 2019
                                                                                                                              • Retailers Shopped

                                                                                                                                • Big three win again
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 53: Top three retailers shopped – Parents versus college students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 54: Repertoire of retailers shopped, November 2019
                                                                                                                                • Parents
                                                                                                                                  • So many stores, so little time
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 55: Retailers shopped – Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                  • Dads value simplicity while moms do heavy lifting at clothing retailers
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 56: Retailers shopped – Parents, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                  • Competition fierce for high-income earners; opportunity to win more suburban shoppers
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 57: Retailers shopped – Parents, by household income, November 2019
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 58: Retailers shopped – Parents, by area, November 2019
                                                                                                                                  • Black consumers head to dollar and discount stores
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 59: Retailers shopped – Parents, by race and Hispanic origin, November 2019
                                                                                                                                  • College students
                                                                                                                                    • Students favor retailers that cater to their budgets
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 60: Retailers shopped – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                    • Target winning with collegiate crowd
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 61: Retailers shopped – College students, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                    • May be worth it to have a store near a college campus
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 62: Retailers shopped – College students, by living arrangements, November 2019
                                                                                                                                  • Shopping Method

                                                                                                                                    • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                      • Online and mobile shopping gain ground
                                                                                                                                        • Figure 63: Multichannel versus single-channel shopping – Parents versus college students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                        • Figure 64: In-store buying – Parents versus college students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                      • Parents
                                                                                                                                        • 40% consolidate all shopping to the store
                                                                                                                                          • Figure 65: Shopping method – Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                          • Figure 66: Shopping method – Parents, by generation, November 2019
                                                                                                                                        • College students
                                                                                                                                          • More researching done online
                                                                                                                                            • Figure 67: Shopping method – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                        • Items to Purchase

                                                                                                                                          • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                            • Parents plan to buy more new items than do college students
                                                                                                                                              • Parents
                                                                                                                                                • Future outlook looks good as intent to purchase trends up
                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 68: Items to purchase – Parents, November 2019 and 2018
                                                                                                                                                  • Moms take the lead, but dads aren’t far behind
                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 69: Items to purchase – Parents, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                  • If they look good, we look good
                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 70: Attitudes regarding shopping approach – parents, by generation, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                  • College students
                                                                                                                                                    • Fewer new purchases planned
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 71: Items to purchase – College students, November 2019 and 2018
                                                                                                                                                    • Men and their toys; women and their beauty supplies
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 72: Attitudes regarding shopping approach – College students, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 73: Purchasing responsibility – College students, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                    • It’s all about thriftiness unless the parents are paying
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 74: Items to purchase, by purchasing responsibility – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                    • Electronics remain important; smart speakers and wearables on the “want” list
                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 75: Electronics to purchase – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                    • Shopping Influencers

                                                                                                                                                      • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                                        • Shoppers lean on others’ recommendations when making decisions
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 76: Influence of recommendations and media – Parents versus college students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 77: Influence of media – Parents versus college students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                          • Parents
                                                                                                                                                            • Children are the top influencer by far
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 78: Target back-to-school Facebook post, targeted to parents, August 2019
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 79: Target back-to-school Facebook video post, targeted to kids, July 2019
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 80: Ryman Stationery Twitter post, July 2019
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 81: Shopping influencers – Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 82: Attitudes toward back-to-school shopping – Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                            • Everybody loves a good deal, but brand familiarity instills confidence in consumers when deals aren’t available
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 83: Influence of promotions/coupons – Parents, by household income, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                            • Dads actively seek guidance
                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 84: Select shopping influencers – Parents, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                            • College students
                                                                                                                                                              • For the college crowd, what their friends think and do matters
                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 85: Shopping influencers – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                              • TikTok emerges onto the social media scene
                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 86: Twitter post about TikTok’s new ecommerce features, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 87: Social media influence, by social media sites visited daily – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                            • Attitudes toward Back-to-School Shopping

                                                                                                                                                              • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                                                • BTS time conjures a range of emotions that marketers can play to
                                                                                                                                                                  • Parents
                                                                                                                                                                    • Parents and kids bond while shopping
                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 88: Attitudes toward back-to-school shopping - Parents, by generation and race and Hispanic origin, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 89: Attitudes toward time spent with children during bts - Parents, by generation and race and Hispanic origin, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                    • Hustle and bustle of BTS season not embraced by all
                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 90: BTS is stressful – agree, Parents, by household income and number of children in the household, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                    • College students
                                                                                                                                                                      • Female students love to shop for BTS
                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 91: Attitudes toward back-to-school shopping – College students, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                    • Desired Improvements

                                                                                                                                                                      • Key highlights
                                                                                                                                                                        • Parents want to save time; college students want to save money
                                                                                                                                                                          • Parents
                                                                                                                                                                            • Convenience in all aspects will resonate with busy parents
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 92: Desired improvements - Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                            • Dads appreciate tools and guidance that help them shop for their kids
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 93: Desired improvements - Parents, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                            • Winning Millennial parents with tech and service
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 94: Desired improvements - Parents, by generation, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                            • Working parents also opt for convenience in all forms
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 95: Desired improvements - Parents, by employment status, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                            • Parents want to get the right items fast
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 96: TURF Analysis on desired improvements - Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                            • College students
                                                                                                                                                                              • Bring on the discounts
                                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 97: Desired improvements – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                              • Women more vocal than men about wanting some improvements at retail
                                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 98: Desired improvements – College students, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                              • Saving money and getting their online orders quickly are what college kids want
                                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 99: TURF Analysis on desired improvements – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                            • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                                                                                                              • Data sources
                                                                                                                                                                                • Sales data
                                                                                                                                                                                  • Consumer survey data
                                                                                                                                                                                    • TURF Methodology
                                                                                                                                                                                      • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                                                                                                        • Abbreviations
                                                                                                                                                                                          • Terms
                                                                                                                                                                                          • Appendix – The Market

                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 100: Consumers' planned total back-to-school spending (K-12 and college), in current dollars, 2014-19
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 101: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) spending, in current dollars, 2014-19
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 102: Consumers' planned back-to-school (K-12) spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2014-19
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 103: Consumers' planned back-to-college spending, in current dollars, 2014-19
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 104: Consumers' planned back-to-college spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2014-19
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 105: Household spending by category, K-12, 2012-19
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 106: Household spending by category, back-to-college, 2012-19
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 107: Consumers' expected back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending per household, by category, in current dollars, 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 108: School enrollment of the population 3 years old and over, by level, 2008-18
                                                                                                                                                                                          • Appendix – The Consumer

                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 109: In-person versus online student status, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 110: College student living arrangements, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 111: Shopping timeframe – College students, by gender, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 112: Retailers shopped, by shopping method - Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 113: Retailers shopped, by shopping method – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 114: 2020/21 shopping approach, by items to purchase - Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 115: 2020/21 Retailers shopped, by items to purchase - Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 116: 2020/21 Retailers shopped, by items to purchase – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 117: Table - TURF Analysis of desired improvements - Parents, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 118: Table - TURF Analysis of desired improvements – College students, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 119: Tax-free holidays by state, 2019

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