For many, Summer 2021 came with the promise that a return to normal may be on the cards. Now, as we transition into Fall, this positivity continues, especially for retailers enjoying a very welcome retail spike driven by the annual back-to-school (BTS) season. Traditionally, BTS is one of the largest retail ‘seasons’ of the year.

Year-on-Year Gains

Looking ahead in mid-July 2021, the National Retail Foundation (NRF) was already predicting record sales for both school and college supplies. The NRF bases this on their annual survey conducted in conjunction with Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Many started shopping early this year, anticipating a rush on retail as everyone prepared their children for returning to school in-person. By early July, the NRF says, more than half of K-12 and college shoppers had begun shopping in anticipation of when classes would resume. In addition, their respondents indicated that “39 percent […] took advantage of recent sale events such as Prime Day, Target Deal Days, and Walmart’s Deals for Days to shop specifically for school items”.

Similar sentiments and findings came from Deloitte’s 2021 “back-to-school” survey, which projected overall spend increases of 16% year-on-year to $32.5 billion. That’s a solid boost from 2020’s $28.1 billion and represents an average spend of $612 per child. This is the highest “per child” spend in recent years and a promising prospect for retail.

Firm Foundations

The Deloitte report cites stability in household incomes (with 78% of households holding a better or equivalent financial situation compared to last year), and over 55% of parents reporting greater economic confidence this year, completing the picture of a record-breaking back-to-school run.

Additionally, the Innovating Commerce Serving Communities (ICSC) data shows purchasing patterns returning to those seen in 2019. The content of those shopping carts, however, has taken on a different flavor for obvious reasons.

A key finding from both surveys is that parents anticipate their kids needing a greater variety of school items, as compared to previous years. Many are purchasing additional supplies in the form of masks, sanitizers, and other healthcare-related items to ensure a safer return to schooling.

There are also early indications that the spike in online shopping is evening out, while brick-and-mortar stores are starting to see more footfall.

Digital Overhaul for “Back-to-School”

An emerging 2021 trend in the Deloitte data is that a larger proportion of parents are planning tech purchases as part of their BTS buying. Some 31% of shoppers said they planned to add computers and hardware to their lists, a big jump from only 22% last year. School shoppers are also adding other tech to their baskets, with around 37% saying they planned to buy assorted electronic gadgets.

This is unsurprising in a world where the culture around teaching and learning has evolved to include multiple models of blended learning. More than ever, both parents and students expect the incorporation of digital aspects in education.

Tax-Free Deals

Many shoppers took advantage of Tax-Free Days when planning their back-to-school shop last month. For those based in Maryland, the tax break ran from August 8-14 and included clothing and footwear under $100 per item, as well as the first $40 on backpack sales. Meanwhile, Virginia included school supplies at less than $20 per item in their tax-free weekend.

Village at Leesburg combined their tax-free weekend and back-to-school events on the weekend of August 6 – 8th, offering a range of deals on clothing and school supplies for savvy shoppers.

Community Connections

Here at Rappaport, we are proud to be part of local initiatives that support education and the development of our future business people and leaders. In 2020 we pledged our financial support for public schools in D.C. Wards 7 and 8 as a part of our commitment to that process. By working together with local businesses and community members, we aim for a future where we can all be stronger together.

This sentiment is top of mind for us as we return to physical classrooms after a challenging year juggling online and in-person classes. The scent of pumpkin spice may be in the air, but so is optimism.

Additionally, many local retailers and retail centers are offering back-to-school sales and events for their shoppers and communities. These include back-to-school themed events at Potomac Festival (held on Saturday, August 28th) and the Festival at Riva event this coming weekend (Saturday, September 11th). Join us for music, balloon art, a scavenger hunt, and more.

Potomac Festival Back to School

We see the signs of renewed confidence reflected in the robust spending of this year’s back-to-school shopping – both in predictions for the period and the early numbers coming through.

Author Rappaport

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