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June 11, 2021

US back-to-school apparel sales seen surging 78%

The anticipated growth builds on positive retail momentum fuelled by pent-up demand and store re-openings.

By Beth Wright

Overall back-to-school US retail sales are expected to rise 5.5% compared to last year – with apparel by far the fastest growing segment.

The forecast from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, builds on positive retail momentum that has already seen total retail sales rise 12% year-over-year in May.

May marked the eighth consecutive month of total retail sales growth.

US retail sales are expected to grow 5.5% (excluding automotive and gas) during the critical 15  July through 6 September back-to-school period compared to 2020. Compared to 2019, sales are expected to grow by 6.7%.

“Back to school has always been a prime season for retailers. This year, the broader reopening brings an exciting wave of optimism as children prepare for another school year, and the grown-ups in their lives approach a similar ‘return to office’ scenario,” says Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and chairman of Saks Incorporated.

“This back-to-school season will be defined by choice as online sales remain robust, brick and mortar browsing regains momentum and strong promotions help retailers compete for shoppers’ wallets.”

As the broader US reopening occurs and consumers return to brick and mortar, e-commerce sales are anticipated will ease slightly compared to last year (-6.6%) but will remain up a significant amount (+53.2%) when compared to 2019.

In terms of what consumers are buying this back-to-school season, apparel is expected to grow 78.2% on last year and by 11.3% on 2019, while sales at department stores are forecast to be up 25.3% year-on-year and by 9.5% on 2019.

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