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The New Look of Back-to-School

Aug 23, 2017
Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst ;
Apparel

This back-to-school shopping season is a clear reflection of changing times. Besides the season starting earlier and ending later, back-to-school shopping now includes more options for the consumer than ever before, and the effects of these overarching shifts are impacting retail fashion at a deeper level. Kids no longer flock to a single must-have item or a must-shop store. Rather, students are shopping eclectically and this is putting a new kind of pressure on retailers.

Apparel accounts for the largest share of back-to-school spending for students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, and almost 60 percent of consumers told NPD that they planned to spend more on apparel purchases for back-to-school during the 2017 shopping season*. Yet, overall apparel dollar sales are down two percent in the nine weeks ending August 12 compared to the same period in 2016**. The reality is the majority of the back-to-school wardrobe comes together after school starts. By September 2016, more than a quarter of consumers had not yet completed their back-to-school apparel shopping*. In spite of the promotions happening at retail – the days of students shopping for the bulk of their school clothes in the summer are quickly fading. But even after school has started, the fashion industry has another set of challenges to face.

Today’s younger generations view fashion through a different lens than those who preceded them. Generation Z’s emphasis on social media has also changed the way fashion is communicated, inspired, and consumed among teens. As a result, fashion has gotten much more eclectic – a wide range of styles has now taken the place of the must-have look. There are also lots of choices for where to shop, from the high-end to the low-end, and everything in-between – never mind all the online and in-store options.

Consumer shopping delays and diversity are the drivers behind the recent two percent decline in apparel sales and the challenges that retail fashion will continue to face beyond this back-to-school shopping season. The lack of passion for fashion among today’s youth, the lack of on overarching fashion influence, and lack of a singular fashion direction has created a gap between the retailer and the consumer, which is resulting in a gap in sales.

While apparel will be a top back-to-school spend, albeit delayed, back-to-school shoppers are thinking about their back-to-school fashion spend differently. Manufacturers and retailers need to close the gap and relate to the students shopping for apparel consumer and ask, “What’s your look?”

* Source: The NPD Group / LAB Series: 2017 Back-to-School Report
** Source: The NPD Group / Weekly Retail Tracking Service


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