Seasonal Style Snapshot: Back-To-School 2017

Back-To-School Season: Timing Is Everything

The U.S. apparel industry captured the most dollars during the 2016 back-to-school (BTS) season, edging in front of school supplies. As consumers prioritize their purchases, will apparel remain the lead dog for share of spend for BTS 2017?
Here’s what we will keep a close eye on in the coming months.

Source: The NPD Group/LAB Series: 2017 Back-To-School Report

Back-to-School 2017
Hot List

    Non-active items with active properties
  • Denim with comfort stretch and better fit technology fabric
  • Woven shirts with moisture wicking
  • Stain-resistant clothing

    Retro logos
  • Look out for retro logos, especially on tees and sweatshirts
  • Band tees are growing by double-digits

    Pro-girl power apparel
  • Apparel featuring positive messaging

  • Clothes that defy gender norms

A Series of Mini-Seasons

Due to timing of school start dates, tax free days, new product introductions, and changing consumer behavior, the back-to-school season has evolved into a series of mini-seasons:

Shopping for the little kids: This is the classic back-to-school shopping season. It’s running longer these days than it once did. Parents are waiting until late in the season, or even until slightly after school begins, to take advantage of sales.

Shopping for other people’s kids: Pantry shopping, as it’s called, is a fairly recent phenomenon. As teachers have found themselves short of supplies, they’ve had to get more creative. Often teachers will spend personal funds, particularly on items for children who cannot afford their own supplies.

Shopping for college kids: College-focused shopping tends to peak earlier than other back-to-school shopping, shown by our Checkout TrackingSM and Retail Tracking Service data.

Shopping in reaction to other people’s kids: The last mini-season only begins after school starts. It can be thought of as a response to the shopping other parents have done, or “reaction shopping.” For example, clothing may be updated once kids see the current looks, brands, and styles in action at school.

When it comes to apparel, two mini-seasons stand out:

1Shopping for the little kids

During last year’s traditional back-to-school season, jeans were a top performer. They ranked #2 in dollar volume and were responsible for 13 percent of the dollars gained.

Although jeans sales dipped in September 2016, we saw categories like sweatshirts shine as a result of the “reactive” BTS shopping season.

2Shopping in reaction to other people’s kids

Parents plan to cover most trends before school starts, but during those first few weeks of school, new must-have items emerge. When most categories dipped in September 2016, sweatshirt unit sales showed double-digit growth compared to August. Unit sales grew almost twice as fast as dollars, signifying potential missed dollar sales due to discounted items.

The NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service, 4ME September 2-16, school-aged kids (5-18 years old)

There are now waves that define the back-to-school season, keeping pace well beyond the traditional August close to the season. These shopping waves come in and go out, with a number of key periods when consumers focus on building out different parts of their back-to-school needs. Retailers that prescribe to the old calendar will be selling themselves, and the back-to-school season, short."

- Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst
More on Timing

The timing of back-to-school shopping and what consumers focus their spending on has become less consistent and predictable in recent years.

Think back-to-school shopping ends in September? Think again!

15 percent of U.S. consumers don’t even start their back-to-school shopping until September or October.

Source: The NPD Group/LAB Series: 2017 Back-To-School Report

Tax-Free Shopping Days

The majority of states that offered tax-free shopping did so the last weekend of July or the first weekend of August.

During these tax-free days, buyers spent a larger share of their dollars on apparel, footwear, accessories, and office supplies than they did on non-tax free days.

Apparel categories that spiked during this time were boys’ and girls’ knit shirts, jeans, shorts, active bottoms, and pants.

The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service, May 30-October 1, 2016

Online vs. In-Store Shopping

Although 84 percent of last year’s total back-to-school apparel purchases were made in store, promotions played a large part in online purchases last year. Unit sales for online apparel bought “on sale” grew 8 percent for BTS 2016.

Online sales began to increase the week ending July 16, 2016, the same week as Amazon Prime Day. In July, Amazon showed the most growth (46 percent) compared to the other months during the BTS season. In-store sales showed the most growth the week of August 6, which is when many states offered tax-free shopping.

The NPD Group/Checkout TrackingSM and Checkout Tracking E-commerce

What About Back-to-School 2017?

Tax-free timing remains important. In a study last fall,


of back-to-school shoppers said they waited for tax-free days to do the majority of their shopping.

The NPD Group/Omnibus Study, September 2016


of back-to-school shoppers plan to purchase apparel items online this BTS season.

Source: The NPD Group/LAB Series: Back-To-School May 2017

The Secret to Success in Today's Apparel Market

It's 2017, but real income is comparable to 2007 levels. Discretionary spending is down. What do you need to know to get ahead in the apparel market?

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Back-to-School Purchase Intentions

Our analysts expect this year's back-to-school shopping season will be longer, and could be larger, than last year's season.

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Track and Understand Apparel Trends

A new and intuitive, mobile-friendly website gives you the data you need in an easy-to-use, visual format.

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Questions? Contact your NPD account representative, call us at 866-444-1411, or email