BACK TO SCHOOL 2021 RETAIL TRENDS
The 2021 back-to-school (BTS) shopping season is in full swing in the United States. Sales are projected to increase by 16% year over year, which puts BTS shopping on track to generate over $32 billion. Last year, shopping was overshadowed by pre-vaccine COVID-19 concerns. However trends this year indicate a strong sense of optimism. “After a school year of missing “moments that matter,” parents are excited to get kids back into classrooms and are looking to replenish supplies and outfit kids for success.” Traditionally, BTS represents the second largest shopping season of the year, so it’s important to understand the trends that are impacting this back-to-school shopping season.
RETAIL TRENDS: TECHNOLOGY IS ESSENTIAL
Technology is a huge factor in this year’s BTS shopping season. Technology sales have increased by 37% in comparison with last year. This remarkable increase can be attributed to two main factors. First, the pandemic forced many schools and universities to rethink their digital offerings. As a result, many schools (especially universities) are becoming more digitally integrated. Even smaller schools/colleges are now offering online degree programs. This means more students need to invest in hardware like laptops, headphones, and other electronic accessories. Second, despite the return to in-person education, 3 in 10 students are still expected to face hybrid learning this coming year as public policy makers and local school districts continue to navigate COVID-19 in 2021. Many parents are being forced to supplement their children’s education with online services. A recent Deloitte survey found that 48% of parents plan to purchase e-learning platform subscriptions and 18% plan to pay for one-on-one online tutors.
RETAIL TRENDS: APPAREL HAS FLATLINED
The BTS clothing and accessories category shrunk by -1% compared with last year. Although apparel is still the largest spending BTS category, growth is stagnant in this area because there is still significant uncertainty about how local school districts and officials will approach the school year. Because some parents are worried about a return to remote learning, this category will likely not see significant growth again until the pandemic is officially over in the United States. That said, there have been gains in certain subcategories in the apparel space. For example, 22% of shoppers plan to visit fast fashion retailers (like H&M) for their 2021 back-to-school clothing needs. That is a 5% increase from last year. With this new emphasis on digital learning, it should not surprise retailers that many families have shifted spending categories to better afford the new technologies required for education in 2021.
RETAIL TRENDS: INVENTORY UNCERTAINTY
Supply chain shortages, which have plagued the globe for over a year since the pandemic began in March 2020, are a source of concern for parents. 50% of shoppers plan to start shopping for BTS essentials earlier than normal. As a result, “59% of BTS spend[ing will] occur by the end of July” as families attempt to find high-demand products and avoid stockouts. That is compared with just 45% in 2020. To a certain extent, these worries are justified. Industry insiders say shipping rates from textile manufacturing hubs like China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam have risen by 200-300% and retailers are concerned about finding enough container space for goods.
RETAIL TRENDS: RISE IN THRIFT STORE SHOPPING
Mass merchants are still the preferred channel for BTS shopping, but thrift stores have experienced a rise in popularity. In a recent survey, 19% of consumers plan to visit a thrift/consignment store for BTS shopping this year. That is a 10% jump compared with 2020. While increased technology costs is certionaly a factor for this growth, analysts also connect the rise of thrift stores in BTS shopping to Gen Z’s push for sustainability. For young millennials and especially Gen Z students, thrift stores represent a unique opportunity to upcycle and reuse existing products, which can help reduce carbon footprints and protect the environment.
RETAIL TRENDS: PANDEMIC PREFERENCES STICK
The pandemic has permanently reshaped consumer behavior. In total, online stores are expected to see a 5% increase in sales compared with 2020. Traditional mass merchants are also being impacted by this digital shift. Shoppers are now looking for “retailers that offer convenience.” According to a recent Deloitte report, 34% of shoppers “plan to use BOPIS or curbside pickup more frequently for BTS shopping.” That is compared with 26% in 2020. The new retail trends adopted by consumers during the early days of the pandemic are continuing to gain traction and it is clear that these alternative shopping methods are here to stay.
At CASTUS, we leverage our Teams’ extensive retail expertise on behalf of clients. CASTUS is committed to driving long-term growth for your company in a constantly evolving business environment. Many things are uncertain right now, but with the right planning, we can help you migrate risk and accurately assess business opportunities.