Port Washington, N.Y., June 21, 2021 – The typical back-to-school season occurs during the late summer and early fall timeframe, but last year was anything but typical. While many children remained at home for the start of the school year, the traditional back-to-school shopping season was put on hold, for the most part. However, since some students began to return to school after the holidays, traditional back-to-school categories, including backpacks, children’s shoes, and apparel, experienced a back-to-school sales lift, according to The NPD Group (www.npd.com).

In the first four months of 2021, the children’s backpack category grew 63% over 2020 and 58% over 2019. Sales remained strong through April. In March and April, adult backpacks – which are often carried by older kids – were also on the rise. This strong growth in backpacks echoes sales increases in kid-related apparel, sneakers, and other categories.

“Starting in January, more schools began to offer traditional learning options, shifting from hybrid or virtual, and kids began to go back to classrooms,” said Beth Goldstein, accessories and footwear industry analyst at NPD. “Combined with the stimulus rollout and an early Easter, this mini-back-to-school season is apparent in the strong performance of these categories.”

Although certain products experienced a lift during the atypical springtime return to school, Goldstein still anticipates plenty of back-to-school demand in the fall. In fact, two-thirds of consumers with children between the ages of 5 and 18 expect to start the upcoming school year in classrooms again, a percentage that will likely increase as time goes on and more information about school plans is released.

“Assuming that the majority of kids go back to school in-person, which seems likely, consumers should be ready to spend again on back-to-school needs,” added Goldstein. “I don’t anticipate that purchases in the spring, particularly for footwear and apparel, will cannibalize much of the traditional season. When it comes to retail, the positive outlook is that kids continue to grow, so buying new clothing for school is a given.”

A Variety of Factors to Watch this Summer

Goldstein noted she is closely watching the impact of this early rise in back-to-school buying, but she also anticipates a longer, more drawn-out fall shopping season as students return to the classroom. With Prime Day occurring this week, it remains to be seen if Amazon and other retailers will push back-to-school items during their earlier-than-usual promotional season. The atypical season could be exaggerated by late school starts across the country, as well.

Burbio, a school and community event platform, found that while just over 60% of K-12 students in the U.S. will start school between the weeks of August 2 and August 16, many states plan to start back up much later than that. Over 70% of students in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, and over 50% of students in Oregon will return to school after Labor Day, and several states have the majority of their students starting the week of August 30.

“Some larger school districts are not reopening until September, so there’s a good chance that the traditional back-to-school season could be elongated,” Goldstein said. “Depending on how the June promotions play out, we could see both an early and a late boost this year.”

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