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07/23/2021

Consumers will return to pre-pandemic back-to-school shopping habits

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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As COVID-19 shows signs of receding, consumers are returning to stores and starting earlier for their back-to-school shopping needs.

According to the third annual U.S. Back-to-School Consumer Sentiment Survey from Sensormatic Solutions, part of Johnson Controls, three-quarters (76%) of consumers plan to shop in-store this year. The survey reveals a return to pre-pandemic shopping habits for the 2021 back-to-school season.

Seventy-four percent of respondents expect their children to return to fully in-person classes this year. As a result, 34% plan to start their back-to-school shopping (both in-stores and online) in July, compared to only 17% of consumers in 2020 and 39% of consumers in 2019. When asked how they will be shopping for back-to-school this year in addition to the 76% of respondents who plan to shop in-store:

•    54% said they will shop online
•    33% will use buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS)
•    22% will use curbside pickup

When asked how the state of the economy will impact shopping habits, respondents displayed a notable year-over-year shift back to pre-pandemic spending:
•    2021: 39% said their shopping habits will not be impacted and 12% plan to spend more this year compared to last year.
•    2020: 21% said their shopping habits would not be impacted and 9% said they would spend more than the previous year.
•    2019: 51% said their shopping habits would not be impacted and 12% said they would spend more than the previous year.

Consumers plan to spend the most on apparel and school supplies. Seventy percent of respondents said they would spend the most on clothing/apparel, followed by shoes (55%), school supplies (53%), backpacks (37%) and electronics (33%). Sixty-one percent of respondents said they anticipate spending the most on casual clothes (e.g. jeans, graphic t-shirts, etc.), followed by 17% who said athleisure, and 11% who said fitness/sportwear.

[Read more: Deloitte: Back-to-school spending will be at highest level in years]

Consumer confidence about shopping in-store reached new highs in June. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of back-to-school shoppers said they were neutral or unconcerned about shopping in-store currently. When asked the same question in spring 2021, 50% of shoppers were neutral or unconcerned about shopping in-store and only 35% of shoppers were neutral or unconcerned in winter 2020.

As confidence increases, there is also a resurgence of consumers who preferred to shop at enclosed malls. Sixteen percent of respondents said they shop at enclosed malls most frequently, compared to 9% in spring 2021. Free-standing stores and strip centers remain the most popular format, with 42% of back-to-school shoppers saying they shop here most frequently.

Additionally, Sensormatic Solutions Shopper Insights data predicts the busiest weeks of the back-to-school shopping season by region to be:
•    Midwest: Weeks 27-28 (Aug. 1 – 14, 2021)
•    Northeast: Weeks 29-31 (Aug. 15 – Sep. 4, 2021)
•    Southern: Weeks 26-27 (July 25 – Aug. 7, 2021)
•    Western: Weeks 26-28 (July 25 – Aug. 14, 2021)