Retailers to Benefit From BTS Spending Surge

Mike Troy
Editorial Director
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Back-To-School at Walmart

American families spending during back-to-school season is expected to increase by an average of $200, even though great uncertainty lingers over what exactly kids are heading back to.

A new survey from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) finds that the average consumer expects to spend more on back-to-school items this year than in 2019, despite continued uncertainty over school openings. According to ICSC, back-to-school shoppers will spend an average of $1,053 on related items, up approximately $200 from last year, with increased spending on electronics and furniture.

The increased spending outlook is noteworthy because for many students, back-to-school policies remain fluid. For example, ICSC’s survey reveals that only 26% of respondents indicated school would resume with regular instruction. Twenty-eight percent will resume schooling in an online-only format—an especially popular pursuit in the South (30%) and West (40%). As a result, shoppers indicated strong demand for electronics (59%) and home furnishings (45%) to accommodate changes, in addition to standard school supplies and clothing.

“It is encouraging to see consumers planning to spend more on back-to-school this year, especially in light of the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic,” said Tom McGee, President and CEO of ICSC. “Ultimately, the goal is for students to resume their education safely and effectively. Retailers are doing everything in their power to meet changing consumer needs this back-to-school season.”

ICSC’s survey indicates that uncertainty around the structure of learning may be changing how and when consumers shop for goods this year. For example, 62% of respondents won’t begin shopping until they have a definitive answer about how their child’s school will reopen, and 65% shared that the amount they spend will greatly depend on the schedule and format of their child’s schooling. This could extend the back-to-school shopping season, as 55% of consumers intend to make several trips to stores for items, and 58% of spending is expected to happen in August and September.

Though retailers have faced immense and long-lasting disruption due to COVID-19, ICSC’s survey provides some optimism. Ninety-six percent of respondents will make purchases from stores with a physical presence. Click-and-collect shopping has also become a popular option, with 56% expecting to use this method.

“This is no ordinary back-to-school season, but that isn’t deterring consumers from spending money at physical stores,” said McGee. “Back-to-school shopping continues to be popular even in these uncertain times.”

To arrive at the findings, ICSC survey 1,005 adults 18 years of age or older from July 24-26.