Back-to-School Shopping in 2021

At this time last year, families with children across the United States were preparing for a school year unlike any other. With classes being conducted remotely, getting technology and work station setups in place was the top priority. This year, it appears that a return to in-person schooling is in order. As families ready themselves for a return to school that more resembles years past, what will their shopping lists look like?


Getting Started Early

According to an early June poll conducted by the National Retail Federation, over one-quarter of back-to-school and college shoppers had already begun picking up items for the fall. As of early July, that number escalated to 51 percent. This occurred in spite of the fact that three-quarters of K-12 shoppers had not yet received school supply lists for their children. Why so much early spending? Thirty-nine percent of shoppers took advantage of sale events like Prime Day, Target Deal Days, and Walmart’s Deals for Days.


Expected Spending

Total back-to-school spending (K-12) is expected to reach $37.1 billion, and spending for college is anticipated to reach $71 billion. That’s an average of nearly $849 in spending for families with children in K-12 and $1,200 for college students and their families. Each represents an all-time high in expected spending, and for college students, in particular, the majority of that increase is likely to come from electronics and dorm furnishings. Of those buying electronics, 49 percent will be buying a laptop.


Shopping Destinations

Although school is expected to return to in-person, it should come as no surprise that much of the shopping will still take place online. For both parents of K-12 (48%) and college students (43%), online is the top shopping destination. Check out the table below to see where else they’ll be shopping this back-to-school season:


Back-to-School Spending Destinations
K-12 College
48% online 43% online
48% department stores 33% department stores
44% discount stores 30% discount stores
27% office supply stores 29% office supply stores
27% electronics stores 28% college bookstores


Excitement for Apparel

When asked what their kids are most excited to shop for this back-to-school season, 49 percent of K-12 parents said clothing and accessories. That’s a seven-point jump over 2020, and one that is easily attributable to the return of in-person schooling—first-day outfits, anyone? For brands that offer children’s apparel, there’s a clear opportunity to capitalize on that excitement through upcoming marketing efforts.

A recent campaign from legacy children’s brand, OshKosh, sought to do just in an ad that depicted Mariah Carey, Muhammad Ali, and Outkast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000 as school-aged children. Dubbed ‘Today is Someday,’ the campaign aimed to reconnect with millennial parents who grew up with the brand while showcasing clothing that was reflective of today’s trends.

Is your brand looking to connect with families this back-to-school shopping season? Contact us today to learn more.



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