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Back-to-School Special Coverage

How COVID-19 is Impacting Consumer Spending

As COVID-19 continues to unfold, NPD is uniquely positioned to help you understand and react to changes as they happen. As the leading provider of sales tracking data covering stores and e-commerce, we report on what is actually occurring in the marketplace.

We will be updating this page frequently with data, expert analysis and other resources to help you navigate this challenging time.

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U.S. Consumption Trends by Week

General Merchandise: Dollar Change Versus Year Ago

Compared to last year, U.S. general merchandise dollar sales increased 11% in the week ending September 12.

Source: The NPD Group/Point-of-Sale Early Indicator Report, NPD Universe, WE Sep 12, 2020
Industries Included: Apparel, Footwear, Auto Aftermarket, Watches, Housewares, Small Domestic Appliances, Toys, Video, Sports Accessories, Consumer Technology, Office Supplies, Prestige Beauty, Juvenile Products

Back-to-School Spending: Dollar Change Versus Year Ago

Total back-to-school* spending struggled versus the prior year but displayed signs of improvement in late August.

Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service

*The back-to-school defined universe is a segmentation based on key categories essential for the start of the school year across technology, office supplies, athletic footwear, small appliances, and apparel.

Back-to-School (BTS) Industry Perspectives:

Marshal Cohen
Chief Industry Advisor, Retail

“Uncertainty, unique needs, and continuous change will be driving forces behind the 2020 back-to-school shopping season. Traditional back-to-school spending will be delayed and compressed, while other spending will be pushed beyond the traditionally defined season and linger longer as parents acclimate to the new schooling environment. Consumers living and purchasing in the here and now is impacting every industry, and stay-at-home learning will have a widespread effect on our lives, and retail, that goes well beyond educational needs. Retailers across many industries need to remain at the ready for the consumer dash when the next ‘need bell’ rings.”

Leen Nsouli
Executive Director, Industry Analyst, Office Supplies

“The uncertainties around this back-to-school season are getting traditional school supplies sales off to a very late and slow start. There will be a long tail of afterthought purchases as consumers acclimate to their new schooling environment, and atypical sales bumps as different geographies phase in physical classroom attendance at various times, blurring the beginning, ending and peak lines of this back-to-school season.”

Ben Arnold
Industry Analyst, Consumer Electronics

“In many ways, the 2020 BTS season began in March as students rushed to purchase PCs, printers, and other productivity accessories in order to finish out the school year. Sales of PCs surged this summer, reaching historic levels in July and August. At the same time, supply-component shortages, manufacturing slowdowns, and shipping delays have all led to low inventory levels of PCs during a time when demand has never been higher.”

Kristen Classi-Zummo
Market Insights, Apparel

“Parents will still buy clothes for their kids this BTS season, but basics and comfort categories will play bigger roles. Apparel purchases will be more spanned out, as many kids will be learning remotely to some degree, and won't need a full wardrobe to show off in their first weeks of school.”

Kristen McLean
Industry Analyst, Books

“There’s been a strong consumer market for children’s fiction and non-fiction, as families cope with a new cycle of schooling from home. Back-to-school book categories for both kids and adults increased 29%, and children’s educational non-fiction grew a whopping 44% for the year. While students and parents are buying books for themselves and their children, sales of educational books to K-12 schools and universities have faced reported declines. As the economic health of schools and universities remain uncertain in light of COVID-19-related budget cuts, it’s clear that some of the burden of educational book spending has shifted from schools to students and parents.”

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