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Back-to-School Shopping is Seeing a Second Wave. Here's Why

Child walking to school with parent with new backpack and clothes from back-to-school shopping

In many states, school is back in session. And parents and students are back out shopping.

Typically, most back-to-school shopping dies down before classrooms open. Big retailers start back-to-school sales in July. It's common for students and parents to take advantage of the savings and have their shopping done by mid-August.

But students who have already returned to school are now coming home with a second shopping list. As schools across the US are in their own timing of starting their first weeks, this trend is expected to last well into September.

Reasons for a Back-to-School Shopping Return

While most school shopping takes place earlier, it's not uncommon for some purchases to continue past the first days. Many students get a list of new supplies requests in their first weeks from teachers.

But this year, returning school shoppers may be coming out in even higher numbers. Here's why.

Return from remote year in 2020

With remote school dominating in the 2020-2021 school year, students had different focuses in their school shopping. Our 2021 customer research study found that parents of school-aged children plan to spend more on clothes and shoes, and less on electronics, in their back-to-school shopping this year compared to last.

This might mean more purchases for in-person necessities this year, and record highs of retail spending across all grades. It's predicted that parents of K-12 children will spend 37.1 billion this year, with college students representing another 71 billion. 

New school year, same uncertainty

With the current surge of the Delta variant, many are questioning whether schools will stay in-person for long. This raises plenty of questions for them as shoppers for what to prioritize.

Do the kids need backpacks? Lunch kits? New running shoes? What about technology or devices—will there be the same dependence on Chromebooks, webcams, and headphones as last year? Many parents are waiting to feel out how the school year looks in the first weeks before making purchases.

Looking to peers for trends

Students, particularly teens and young adults, are becoming increasingly reluctant to make certain types of buying decisions before the official start of the school year. This is true for almost every category, from wardrobe to backpacks to devices.

Why? The desire to fit in and follow fashion trends motivates kids to wait and see what items or trends are popular amongst their peers. This may be especially true following a mostly virtual school year students didn't have the same opportunity to observe friends daily.

Tips to Shop the Second Wave

Many parents are returning to stores when students are back in classrooms. If you're among them, here's how to get the most out of your second wave shopping.

1. Look for continuing deals

Since back-to-school sales started in July, many have ended, or have low inventory on the discounted items. Keep an eye out for ongoing deals, and discounts on end of summer sales and Labor Day weekend sales on the products you want.

2. Go for quality

Our study revealed that 30% of parents replace items like electronics and bags every year. Investing in higher quality items that could be used year after year can save you in the long-run. Look for companies that offer extended warranties that cover wear and tear and accidental damage. 

3. Take advantage of discount options

Online shopping is the preferred method for most back-to-school shoppers this year. Along with the perks of convenience and more options, shopping online can offer opportunities to save. Look for discount codes and coupons before making purchases. The MulberryCare browser extension allows you to get free 12-month protection plans on all covered purchases. Many retailers offer free shipping and returns or extended return policies by shopping online. 

Happy woman customer and child, with text about 12 months of free product protection

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Janessa McQuivey

About the author

Janessa McQuivey is the Content Marketing Manager at Mulberry. Her degree in Human Development fueled a love of understanding customer experience. She has been in research and writing for 3 years and has covered everything from AI technology to her own dating life. Janessa has published across blogs, newspapers, and academic journals.

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