August 7, 2020
Back-to-school used to be a pretty predictable sequence of events—and for retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, a dependable late-summer cash cow. This year, of course, the routine has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic: just 26% of respondents to a new International Council of Shopping Centers survey said their school districts would resume classes with regular instruction.
So long and farewell to retailers’ hopes of brisk business during the dog days of summer? Not necessarily. The ICSC survey found that back-to-school shoppers plan to spend an average of $1,053 on related items, up approximately $200 from last year, with increased spending on electronics and furniture.
“It is encouraging to see consumers planning to spend more on back-to-school this year, especially in light of the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic,” said Tom McGee, president and CEO of ICSC. “Ultimately, the goal is for students to resume their education safely and effectively. Retailers are doing everything in their power to meet changing consumer needs this back-to-school season.”
ICSC’s survey suggests that uncertainty around the structure of schooling this fall may be changing how and when consumers shop for goods this year. For example, 62% of respondents won’t begin shopping until they have a definitive answer about how their child’s school will reopen, while 65% said the amount they spend will greatly depend on the schedule and format of their child’s schooling.
This could extend the back-to-school shopping season beyond the traditional full-stop prior to Labor Day. Fifty-five percent of consumers intend to make several trips to stores for items, and 58% of spending is expected to happen in August and September, according to ICSC.
Although the pandemic-induced disruptions to brick-and-mortar retail have been widely reported, ICSC’s survey provides some optimism. Ninety-six percent of respondents will make purchases from stores with a physical presence. Click-and-collect shopping has also become a popular option, with 56% expecting to use this method.
“This is no ordinary back-to-school season, but that isn’t deterring consumers from spending money at physical stores,” said McGee. “Back-to-school shopping continues to be popular even in these uncertain times.”
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