Pent-Up Demand and Longer Selling Season Poised to Fuel a B-T-S Sales Blowout

Sales during the important back-to-school season are poised to bounce back from the pandemic-related lows seen last year, thanks largely to expectations that children will return to schools in person and will need wardrobe updates and school supplies.

From July 15 through September, consumers will focus on shopping for B-T-S, and though stores are widely reopened for in-person sales, many consumers — who have new confidence with online shopping thanks to pandemic-related lockdowns — still plan to shop from home.

Shopkick found in a survey it conducted of over 7,400 Americans from May 5 to 10 that 71% expect to send their children back to school in person full time. About 56% of people surveyed, however, said they will shop more online than they normally would, and more than half of respondents said they plan to make fewer shopping trips.

Plenty of shoppers plan to venture out to stores, though: 92% said they will go to stores, compared with 66% from last fall, and big box retailers like Target and Walmart will take the majority share of in-store shoppers. Amazon will be the winner for online sales, according to the Shopkick survey.

“While Americans prepare for this back-to-school season in different ways than last year, some habits are sticking around. Retailers must be ready for an influx of in-store shopping without neglecting the omnichannel, mobile experiences consumers have grown accustomed to over the past year,” Shopkick said.

About 42% of shoppers plan to spend between $101 and $300 on BTS, while 21% will spend between $301 and $600. About 12% will spend more than $600, Shopkick said.

Consumers who plan to spend more on BTS purchases reported that they will do so because they didn’t spend as much last year while children were at home completing school work remotely.

Apparel is the largest category consumers will spend on, at 60% of dollars spent, while 24% of dollars will be spent on basic school supplies like backpacks, notebooks and pens. The majority of shoppers also said they are on the lookout for deals.

“This back-to-school season will be defined by choice as online sales remain robust, brick and mortar browsing regains momentum and strong promotions help retailers compete for shoppers’ wallets,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and chairman of Saks Inc. in an early June statement.

Mastercard SpendingPulse forecast spending in stores and online to increase 5.5% year over year from July 15 to September 6. When compared with 2019 levels, sales are seen increasing 6.9%.

Apparel sales are seen jumping 78.2%, according to Mastercard, and department stores should see a 25.3% boost in year over year sales.

“When it comes to retail, the positive outlook is that kids continue to grow, so buying new clothing for school is a given,” said Beth Goldstein, accessories and footwear industry analyst at NPD Group.

For its part, NPD recently noted that the B-T-S shopping season could be “drawn out” because many school districts do not go back to school until after Labor Day, which is September 6. Some districts, however, begin as early as August 2.

“Some larger school districts are not reopening until September, so there’s a good chance that the traditional back-to-school season could be elongated,” said Goldstein. “Depending on how the June promotions play out, we could see both an early and a late boost this year.”

Back-to-school supplies racked up strong sales for Amazon during its June 21-22 Prime Day event, for example.

Overall, the National Retail Federation predicted in early June that annual retail sales will increase between 10.5% and 13.5% to the range of $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion, compared with $4.02 trillion in retail sales last year.

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