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

Disruptions to students’ learning situations caused by the pandemic created new needs for school, which contributed to sales growth but created lasting disruptions to the back to school shopping patterns. Consumers are still doing back to school shopping, and that will continue; but many are rethinking their needs and spending, looking for alternative ways to save, such as trade-in programs and sales events. Despite being a practical purchase, the social aspect of shopping for school remains important, and consumers want retailers to offer them experiences to interact with others, even if it’s virtually. Moving forward, expect to see more occasions to save throughout the year and virtual experiences, such as gaming, become a bigger part of back to school shopping.

Read on to discover more details or take a look at all of our U.S Retail market research.

Quickly understand

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and back to school shopping.
  • How the recession will grow consumers’ prioritization of value and help mass merchandisers to gain share over other retailers.
  • The changing approach to back to school shopping.
  • The importance of the social element to back to school shopping.

Covered in this report

Brands featured: Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Warehouse Club and more.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Alexis DeSalva Kahler, 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.

No matter where school is taking place, the back to school shopping season will always be a key time of year for consumers and brands. The pandemic shifted how and when consumers shop for school, as well as what they’re buying. New needs emerged in 2020, driving sales of items such as electronics, and will continue to emerge as learning settings evolve. Moving forward, consumers’ approach to back to school shopping will change – but still with a focus on value. This will create new opportunities for brands and retailers such as trade-in programs or adding an additional sales push midway through the school year.

Alexis DeSalva Kahler
Senior Analyst, Retail and eCommerce

Table of Contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Key issues covered in this Report
        • Definition
          • COVID-19: market context
            • Economic and other assumptions
            • Executive Summary

                • Top takeaways
                  • Market overview
                    • Figure 1: Consumers’ planned back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college spending, in current dollars, 2015-20
                  • Impact of COVID-19 on back to school shopping
                      • Figure 2: Short-, medium- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on back to school shopping, July 2020
                    • Opportunities and challenges
                      • Appeal to socially conscious consumers by supporting the greater good
                        • Partner with schools to gain credibility and improve the experience
                          • Offer consumers ways to reuse and repurpose
                          • The Market – Key Takeaways

                            • Disruption to education created new needs
                              • Potential to evolve the seasonal calendar as learning environments evolve
                              • Market Size

                                • Disrupted routines resulted in more needs for school in 2020
                                  • Figure 3: Consumers’ planned back to school (K-12) and back to college spending, in current dollars, 2015-20
                                  • Figure 4: Distribution of consumers’ planned back to school (K-12) spending, by category, 2015-20
                                  • Figure 5: Distribution of consumers’ planned back to college spending, by category, 2015-20
                                • Macroeconomic data
                                  • High unemployment rates could drive interest in higher education, but cause parents to prioritize essentials
                                    • Impact of COVID-19 on back to school shopping
                                        • Figure 6: Short-, medium- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on back to school shopping, July 2020
                                      • Lockdown
                                        • Reemergence
                                          • Recovery
                                            • COVID-19: US context
                                              • Learnings from the last recession
                                              • Market Factors

                                                • Number of households with children is shrinking, but growth opportunities may exist in higher education
                                                  • Figure 7: Households, by presence and ages of own children, 2018
                                                  • Figure 8: Population by generation, 2014-24
                                                • Unemployment and low confidence levels will influence where and how consumers shop for back to school
                                                  • Figure 9: Consumer confidence and unemployment, 2000-October 2020
                                                • Diverse consumers demand justice; want brands to take a stance
                                                  • Figure 10: Households with related children, by race and Hispanic origin of householder, 2018
                                                • Technology becomes an essential part of school, including shopping
                                                • Market Opportunities

                                                  • Disrupt the shopping cycle with additional sales events
                                                    • Use technology to enable an interactive shopping experience
                                                      • Gaming experiences give parents and kids common ground
                                                        • Virtual shopping parties keep it social for students
                                                          • Trade-in options will appeal to thriftier, more resourceful shoppers
                                                          • Competitive Strategies

                                                            • The pandemic cast a shadow on back to school advertising
                                                              • Retailers shift the narrative to cater to new concerns
                                                                • Changes to messaging
                                                                  • Figure 11: Amazon email ad “the school year is here,” September 2020
                                                                  • Figure 12: Target “tees” back to school ad, July 2020
                                                                • Changes to shopping
                                                                  • Figure 13: Walmart “however you go back” video, July 2020
                                                                  • Figure 14: Best Buy “working hard to provide you with the tech to live your life at home” video, March 2020
                                                              • The Consumer – Key Takeaways

                                                                • The pandemic has disrupted consumers’ approach for back to school shopping
                                                                  • Mass merchandisers are the go-to destinations
                                                                    • Sales events will remain an important staple of the school shopping season
                                                                      • Parents and students seek value in various forms
                                                                      • Consumer Trend Drivers Impacting Back to School Shopping

                                                                          • Value
                                                                            • Technology
                                                                              • Experiences
                                                                                • Surroundings
                                                                                • Shopping Participation

                                                                                  • The pandemic shifted shopping habits among both parents and students
                                                                                    • Figure 15: Last year shopping participation, by parents and college students, November 2020
                                                                                  • Minimal threat to this year’s shopping participation, but approach will shift for some
                                                                                    • Moms’ thrifty behavior indicates some may not shop this year
                                                                                    • Retailers Shopped and Method of Shopping

                                                                                      • Mass merchandisers are stealing share from specialists and discount stores
                                                                                        • Figure 16: Retailers shopped – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                        • Figure 17: Retailers shopped – Students, November 2020
                                                                                      • Even during the pandemic, in-store was preferred
                                                                                        • Affordability drives Black parents to savings-centric retailers
                                                                                          • Figure 18: Retailers shopped – By race and Hispanic origin, November 2020
                                                                                      • Items Purchased and Planned Purchases

                                                                                        • Items purchased
                                                                                          • Parents: despite disrupted routines, purchases faced few disruptions
                                                                                            • Figure 19: Items purchased – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                            • Figure 20: Items purchased – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                          • Students: still shopping, but prioritizing essentials
                                                                                            • Figure 21: Items purchased – Students, November 2020
                                                                                            • Figure 22: Items purchased – Students, November 2020
                                                                                          • Anticipated purchases
                                                                                            • Parents: intent to shop is strong across categories; 2021 will be a makeup for last year
                                                                                              • Figure 23: Anticipated purchases – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                            • Students: intent to purchase is strong, but big-ticket categories face potential declines
                                                                                              • Figure 24: Anticipated purchases NET – Students, November 2020
                                                                                          • Changes because of COVID-19

                                                                                            • Regardless of education level, school needs have changed
                                                                                              • Figure 25: Changes because of COVID-19 – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                              • Figure 26: Changes because of COVID-19 – Students, November 2020
                                                                                            • The older the parents, the more concerns with in-store shopping
                                                                                              • Figure 27: Changes because of COVID-19 – Parents by generation, November 2020
                                                                                            • Changes to school situation shift purchases for college students
                                                                                              • Figure 28: Changes because of COVID-19 – Students by area, November 2020
                                                                                          • Behaviors and Attitudes toward Back to School Shopping

                                                                                            • Parents and students have mixed sentiments for back to school shopping
                                                                                              • Figure 29: Behaviors and attitudes – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                              • Figure 30: Behaviors and attitudes – Students, November 2020
                                                                                            • Sales events = stock ups for parents and students
                                                                                              • Figure 31: Select behaviors and attitudes – Parents and students, November 2020
                                                                                            • Multicultural parents will forgo brand for the right price
                                                                                              • Figure 32: Behaviors and attitudes – Parents – By race and Hispanic origin, November 2020
                                                                                              • Figure 33: Target spotlight on Black owned brands, September 2020
                                                                                            • Parents seek expertise and quality
                                                                                              • Figure 34: Behaviors and attitudes – Parents – By select demographics, November 2020
                                                                                            • Shopping is a social experience for full-time students
                                                                                              • Figure 35: Behaviors and attitudes – Students – By select demographics, November 2020
                                                                                          • Shopping Influences

                                                                                            • Kids have strong influence on parents’ purchases
                                                                                              • Figure 36: Shopping influences – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                            • Students are influenced by social media, indicating importance of social commerce
                                                                                              • Figure 37: Shopping influences – Students, November 2020
                                                                                              • Figure 38: Walmart shoppable content, July 2020
                                                                                            • Values can build stronger connections, and increase influence
                                                                                              • Figure 39: Shopping influences – Parents and students – Select demographics, November 2020
                                                                                          • Desired Improvements

                                                                                            • All shoppers are looking for value-based improvements
                                                                                              • Figure 40: Desired improvements – Parents, November 2020
                                                                                              • Figure 41: Desired improvements – Students, November 2020
                                                                                            • Consumers desire features aimed to improve online school shopping
                                                                                              • Figure 42: TURF analysis – Improvements, November 2020
                                                                                            • School shopping brings out women’s deal-seeking behavior
                                                                                              • Figure 43: Desired improvements – Parents and students – By gender, November 2020
                                                                                            • Men seek seamless/frictionless shopping
                                                                                              • Figure 44: Warby Parker at-home try on video, October 2020
                                                                                          • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                            • Data sources
                                                                                              • Sales data
                                                                                                • Forecast
                                                                                                  • Consumer survey data
                                                                                                    • Direct marketing creative
                                                                                                      • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                        • Abbreviations

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