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July 21, 2021

Clothing tops US back-to-school shopping lists

Consumers plan to spend record amounts for both school and college supplies this year, with clothing topping the lists of many shoppers as students prepare to resume activities in person this autumn.

By Beth Wright

Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach a record US$37.1bn in 2021, up from $33.9bn last year and an all-time high in the history of the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics’ annual survey.

“The pandemic forced parents and their school-aged children to quickly adapt to virtual learning, and they did it with an incredible amount of resolve and flexibility,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay says. “We enter the new school year with plans to return to the classroom and retailers are prepared to help Americans find and purchase whatever they need to make this transition as seamless as possible.”

While families are planning to spend more on K-12 students in every category, electronics and clothing saw the biggest increases. Back-to-school shoppers plan to spend $21 more on average on electronics this year compared with 2020 and $19 more on clothes.

“Consumers are spending more on items like electronics and clothing as they make plans for students to resume activities in person this fall,” Prosper Insights executive vice president of strategy Phil Rist adds. “For those in particular with children in elementary to high school, shoppers are putting the largest portion of their budgets toward electronics, new clothes, and accessories.”

According to the survey, as of early July, more than half (51%) of K-12 and college shoppers have begun shopping for the items they will need when classes resume later this year. And 39% say they took advantage of recent sale events such as Prime Day, Target Deal Days and Walmart’s Deals for Days to shop specifically for school items.

However, there is still plenty of shopping left to do. The vast majority (76%) of K-12 shoppers were still waiting on lists for school supplies as of earlier this month.

Online shopping remains a top destination for back-to-school shopping, families are much more comfortable shopping in store this year than last year during the peak of the pandemic.

The most popular destinations for K-12 shoppers are online (48%), department stores (48%), discount stores (44%), clothing stores (41%), office supplies stores (27%) and electronics stores (27%).

The top destinations for college shoppers include online (43%), department stores (33%), discount stores (30%), office supplies stores (29%) and college bookstores (28%).

The survey of 7,704 consumers was conducted 1-8 July and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points.

The NRF said last month retail sales will grow 10.5-13.5% this year as the US economy accelerates its pace of recovery.

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