Looking Ahead: Brand and Back to School Shopping Trends in the U.S.

Published Jul 28, 2021

Ron Ruffinott, VP, Head of Research Solutions

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Summer may be in full swing, but it’s a great time to look ahead and see what the back-to-school season looks to bring in 2021. Consumer behaviors and sentiments continue to change, making historical trends and patterns unreliable and real-time insights crucial.

That’s why we went straight to the source, surveying 750+ consumers with school-aged children about what they’re thinking, feeling, and anticipating for the return to school this fall. Here’s what they shared.

Americans support brands that share their values.

Consumers are showing overwhelming support for brands that align with their values. In fact, 46% of respondents say they actually stopped supporting brands that don’t align with things that are important to them. Thirty-six percent said they regularly go out of their way to engage with brands that align with their values, while 43% said they occasionally do, and 22% said they rarely do.

In addition to seeking good value for the money, nearly half (42%) are concerned with environmental efforts.

This underscores the growing demand for brands to stand for something, support worthwhile causes, and clearly communicate their values to keep customers connected.

In the face of change, U.S. shoppers want brands to be there for them.

The large majority of survey respondents believe brands should be accountable to their customers (65%), indicating another trend in U.S. consumer sentiment for back to school and beyond.

Customers expect businesses to show empathy and sensitivity during a time full of mixed emotions, while still ensuring their brand messaging is relevant and appropriate.

Schools are ready for in-person learning, but parents are unsure.

Nearly three-fourths of survey participants report that their children’s school is reopening in the fall of 2021 for in-person learning, while 17% will open on a limited basis, 5% will offer virtual learning, and 6% are unsure of what the back to school season holds.

We may be seeing a return to normalcy when it comes to schools reopening, but while the majority will welcome students back in person, 40% of parents report being worried about sending their children back.

U.S. consumers are gearing up to spend more on back-to-school items.

In good news for brands, American shoppers plan to spend 40% more on back-to-school shopping this year compared to previous years. The majority will start shopping the month before school starts (54%), while 32% will go at the beginning of September, 11% two weeks before school begins, and 3% the week before school starts.

What will they buy? As respondents report, they expect to buy cleaning supplies, sanitizer, new food items or snacks, school supplies, and clothes, whether for the first time or in larger amounts for the 2021-2022 school year.

They also expect to spend less than they typically would on sports gear, lunch boxes, backpacks, masks, and shoes.

While the upcoming school year looks to be more traditional than that of 2020, consumer sentiment continues to change and evolve. Americans are planning to shop early and stock up on items to help keep their children healthy and comfortable for the year ahead. They’re shopping in support of brands that stand for something they believe in, and support them as customers through these continually challenging times.

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