Could Amazon Prime Day’s Earlier-Than-Ever Date Impact the Back-to-School Season for Brands and Retailers?

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Save for last year, Amazon Prime Day has been held in mid-July, serving as the unofficial kickoff to the back-to-school shopping season for parents and students across the country. But this year, brands and retailers could be gearing up to roll out their promotions earlier than ever before.

Last week in its first-quarter earnings conference call, Amazon SVP and CFO Brian Olsavsky confirmed that the e-commerce giant’s annual 48-hour sales event will take place in the second quarter. This three-month period starts in April and ends on the last day of June, which would be the earliest Prime Day has been held. It would also occur well ahead of the back-to-school shopping season, which typically peaks in late July and early August.

According to experts, the early timing could deliver a much-needed sales boost sooner rather than later for brands and retailers, which have largely faced challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also suggested the time change might benefit a broader range of categories across apparel and footwear, versus those that typically get a lift during the back-to-school shopping months — think supplies, electronics and tech accessories.

“[There’s] been so much pent-up demand to purchase … and still some uncertainty in regard to in-class [learning],” explained Farla Efros, president of consultancy HRC Retail Advisory. “I think consumers will likely hold off on overspending for school at this time and wait it out a bit to see what happens as the new school year evolves.”

She added, “Some schools are still looking at a hybrid approach, which might lessen the BTS spend, and if it is a full BTS [return], I think spend will exceed given the excitement of going back to in-class full time.”

Beth Goldstein, executive director and industry analyst of accessories and footwear at The NPD Group Inc., said brands and retailers have already been observing a “mini-BTS” movement as kids who have been learning remotely over the past year have returned to schools this spring.

According to NPD, fiscal stimulus and an early Easter holiday helped prop up the sales of children’s shoes, as well as clothing and accessories like backpacks, in the first quarter. For the period starting January through March, the market research firm reported that kids’ fashion footwear saw a 78% gain in sales to $142.9 million, while the leisure footwear and performance footwear grew a respective 39% to $973.9 million and 26% to $281.6 million.

As for Prime Day’s impact on the fall sales season, Goldstein had muted expectations. “In June, many schools around the country are still in session, so parents and students are not yet in a back-to-school mindset, and there may be some uncertainty about school plans for the fall,” she said. “They will more likely be thinking about summer, especially with more kids likely to attend camp this year than in 2020.”

Last year, Amazon Prime Day was delayed to October — marking the first time the event took place in the company’s fourth quarter, which also includes two of the year’s biggest shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To compete, big-box rivals Walmart and Target, as well as other chains, launched their respective Big Save and Deal Days events around the same time.

“In 2020, when Prime Day kicked off holiday, apparel, footwear and accessories were not a major focus as demand was fairly low,” Goldstein added. “One would assume that in moving the time to earlier in the year, amid recovery, these categories will once again be featured prominently.”

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