A summer snapshot of back-to-school trends

NRF research looks at how consumers are preparing to hit the books
Katherine Cullen
Sr. Director, Industry and Consumer Insights
June 24, 2021

Sharpen your pencils: Although it’s only June, it’s already time to think about what “back to school” will look like this fall. After months of Zoom learning and an expeditious vaccination campaign, many families are looking ahead to in-person classes. NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics’ annual June survey found that 64 percent of back-to-school and college shoppers expect classes will be in person this year.

So, what does that mean for the retail sector? NRF research dug into the data to understand how the retail industry will be impacted by the 2021 back-to-class season.

Shoppers are getting a head start on items for the classroom.

Although summer has just begun, families are already starting to plan ahead for the start of the next school year. As of early June, one-quarter of back-to-school and college shoppers had already started picking up items for their fall classes. This is up from 21 percent last year and 17 percent in 2019 before the pandemic.


Notably, shoppers are planning these purchases around major sale events. Whether it’s Prime Day, Fourth of July or Labor Day, 61 percent of consumers typically plan their back-to-class shopping around retailer sale events (up from 55% in 2019).

Goodbye pajama pants: First day of school outfits are back.

After a year of casual dress during schooling from home, students and parents are ready to say goodbye to lounge clothes and hello to snazzy new first day of school outfits. Half (49%) of parents with school-aged children say their kids are most excited to shop for apparel this year, up from 42 percent last year.


And it’s not just school supplies: With the return of in-person learning, in-person sports and other activities are expected to return as well. Some shoppers might be expecting to spend more this year as they pick up items in anticipation of these extracurricular activities.

Retailers are ready.

Even if some students aren’t quite ready to return to the classroom, retailers are ready to welcome customers. The back-to-school shopping sales have already begun — with Prime Day (June 21-22) ready to cater to consumers looking to buy school supplies, other retailers announced their own June bargain days to attract customers. Walmart planned its “Deals For Days” June 20-23; Target’s “Target Deal Days” are June 20-22; and Kohl’s offered “Wow Deals” June 21-22.

Next month, we will dive into more NRF insights on how much consumers plan to spend and where they will be shopping this year.

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