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3 things to know for the 2021 back-to-school season

About a third of K-12 students have already returned to class amid a fourth COVID-19 wave. While, earlier this year, analysts had predicted a very optimistic back-to-school (BTS) season for retailers and brands, not all is lost: Many parents still want to make school-related firsts and rites of passage as “normal” as possible for their children.

Regardless of how kids end up going back to class, we believe certain trends will remain:

1. Apparel and accessories are key categories.

According to many reports leading into the second-largest shopping season of the year, clothing will by far be the No. 1 category during BTS. Roughly 38% of the $32.5 billion BTS spending this year will be on clothing and accessories, according to Deloitte's June 2021 projections. Additionally, Sensormatic Solutions found that 70% of US internet users polled in June anticipated spending most on clothing while BTS shopping. The wild card: Nearly 40% said they expect to spend most on backpacks. However, this number may drop if parents wait to see what the fate of in-person learning will be for their kids.

2. Convenience dominates when choosing where to go.

Deloitte found that an overwhelming majority of shoppers plan to go to mass merchants for their BTS shopping needs; online-only stores (presumably Amazon) followed in a distant second. These channels carry all the items on school supply lists under one “roof” and make it very easy for time-strapped consumers.

3. New shopping behaviors are here to stay.

When polled by Tinuiti in March this year, 30.3% of US parents said they were already planning to shop online for their BTS needs, with another 8.1% planning to take advantage of curbside pickup. With the uncertainty around the Delta variant, we believe that the number of in-person shoppers may decline slightly as increases in weekly coronavirus cases continue.