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ICSC: Back-to-school shopping spend to rise; will extend into September

The average consumer expects to spend more on back-to-school items this year than in 2019, despite continued uncertainty over school openings amid COVID-19. 

That’s according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers, which found that back-to-school shoppers will spend an average of $1,053 on related items, up approximately $200 from last year, with increased spending on electronics and furniture.

The ICSC survey also provided some optimism for brick-and-mortar retailers. Ninety-six percent of respondents plan to make purchases from stores with a physical presence. Click-and-collect shopping has also become a popular option, with 56% expecting to use this method.

[Further Reading: Analysis: Back-to-school through the lens of sports retail]

For many students, back-to-school policies remain fluid, with only 26% of survey respondents indicating that school would resume with regular instruction. Twenty-eight percent will resume schooling in an online-only format—an especially popular pursuit in the South (30%) and West (40%). As a result, shoppers indicated strong demand for electronics (59%) and home furnishings (45%) to accommodate changes, in addition to standard school supplies and clothing.

ICSC’s survey also indicated that uncertainty around the structure of learning may be changing how and when consumers shop for goods this year. For example, 62% of respondents won’t begin shopping until they have a definitive answer about how their child’s school will reopen. 

In addition, 65% said that the amount they spend will greatly depend on the schedule and format of their child’s schooling. This could extend the back-to-school shopping season, 55% of consumers intend to make several trips to stores for items, and 58% of spending expected to happen in August and September.

“This is no ordinary back-to-school season, but that isn’t deterring consumers from spending money at physical stores,” said Tom McGee, president and CEO, ICSC. “Back-to-school shopping continues to be popular even in these uncertain times.”

ICSC’s back-to-school survey was conducted by Engine Insights on behalf of ICSC in late July and is a representative U.S. sample of 1,005 adults 18 years of age and older.

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