Looking Ahead: Post-COVID Back-to-School Trends
08 Jul 2021

Looking Ahead: Post-COVID Back-to-School Trends

The COVID-19 pandemic was a time like no other. Everyday life was interrupted on an international scale, and the global economy faltered. Faced with unexpected and substantial economic instability, consumer confidence declined drastically, and many only made purchases to meet their basic needs. Now, with over 2.7 billion people vaccinated and the global infection rate trending downwards, consumers are beginning to “treat themselves” and spend more. With back to school – one of retail’s biggest annual events – right around the corner, experts will be watching back to school trends carefully to determine how well consumer confidence has recovered.

Celebrate the Good Times

Experts expect consumers to spend more money on school supplies, clothes, and dorm room decorations. Many colleges, universities, and K-12 schools plan for a full in-person return this fall. With this combined with a renewed optimism and increased vaccination rates, brands may expect more demand than ever. According to a forecast analysis by Mastercard, sales in the back to school range (mid-July to early September) should rise by 6.7% compared with 2019 and 5.5% compared with 2020. Consumers are willing to spend even more than they were pre-pandemic. These back to school trends point to an end to the economic downturn.

Brands eagerly await the fruition of these forecasts. Some retailers struggled during the pandemic as consumer focus shifted away from non-essential goods and will be looking to make up for lost time. Businesses such as Target and Walmart will face the challenge of competing with their unexpectedly high numbers from last year due to essential goods and online grocery sales. The back to school shopping season will be essential in accomplishing this goal. These businesses will likely be undergoing significant branding campaigns during this time, where they will rely on consumer science and market research on back to school trends to determine the best ways to engage their newly confident customers and tap into new market segments.

Old Habits Die Hard

Experts predict online shopping to continue to be a habit for consumers and trend upwards. E-commerce is expected to grow 53% from 2019 and 7% from 2020. Online shopping in 2021 will likely outpace itself compared to 2020, when there were less in-person shopping options. This is likely due to consumers’ willingness to spend more overall as they financially recover from the pandemic. It also seems like consumers nowadays generally prefer online shopping to in-person shopping.

Branding and advertising campaigns looking to keep up with competitors should take the opportunities of back-to-school into account. In the past, campaigns have highlighted the simplicity of online shopping. They have also offered deals to those who shopped on certain days (Amazon Prime day, Cyber Monday, etc.). These companies often use qualitative and quantitative research to test the feasibility of their new product or campaign, determine who their target audience is, and gain insights on maximizing profits. The growing trend of online shopping seems like it’s here to stay. Companies wanting to capitalize on it will be sure to act quickly and deliberately, especially during the back to school shopping rush.

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