Help expected for the start of the school year
The retail industry is on the verge of having its biggest back-to-school shopping season in at least five years, supported by parents and students who are ready to prepare for the in-person classroom experience after a year of virtual learning.
Spending is expected to reach $ 32.5 billion, up 16% from 2020 and 17% from 2019, according to a forecast from Deloitte LLP. Retailers are optimistic that they can benefit from increased shoppers’ convenience with online shopping, refined during the pandemic, and high demand for everything from school uniforms to markers.
Yet retailers and brands face many challenges in achieving strong sales. Delays at global ports could be contributing to shortages of coveted products, and an extended buying season that runs from June to the end of September makes it more difficult to plan inventory flows and promotions. Inflationary pressures abound and could alter buyer behavior, making the season a key test of how well the industry has adjusted to a consumer landscape reshaped by the pandemic.
“Parents desperately want these kids to go back to school,” said Rod Sides, vice president and head of US retail and distribution at Deloitte. “And we see that they will be willing to spend.”
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Technology will be a key area for spending as parents and students continue to search for gadgets. But clothing is likely to make a resurgence as students, for the most part, will no longer float their heads on Zoom calls. It’s a welcome change for retailers who have seen clothing sales suffer from home life. According to a forecast from Customer Growth Partners, sales of clothing and accessories will increase by 46% compared to 2020 during the start of the school year, a stronger growth than expected for the other categories. Overall, the market research firm expects retail sales to increase 16% from last year from July to September.
Several retailers expect this back-to-school sales to exceed 2019. Some, including Lands’ End, are betting buyers will open their wallets sooner.
“Parents really want to prepare and be ready,” Lands’ End Managing Director Jerome Griffith said. “I think your average consumer understands that there is a supply chain problem in the United States because of how quickly the economy has warmed. They shop earlier so they can buy what they want. ‘they want.”
Newell Brands Inc., the company behind the Elmer’s and Sharpie brands, is well positioned to enjoy a comeback. The company is “very optimistic” about a potential rush as students buy supplies they skipped last year and parents spend a bit more on branded items for younger ones. For students, larger classes due to delayed enrollment could contribute to pent-up demand, said Laurel Hurd, president of the learning and development segment of the business.
“We’re thrilled to be back to normal after all of the madness we’ve been through,” said Hurd.
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Footwear and accessories retailer Designer Shoe Warehouse ordered more Adidas backpacks and fewer cartoon backpacks this year, to meet changing trends.
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. recently launched a private label line of bedding and bathroom items for students. The company has started offering Klarna and AfterPay, installment payment options that younger Gen Z shoppers are more likely to use.
Old Navy, the chic and inexpensive retailer owned by Gap Inc., will showcase its active wear and stretch denim, conceding that the comfort trend will always be the queen of fall. Dormify, a startup that sells college decorations, said headboards were selling fast as incoming students looked to spruce up their dorms.
The Deloitte poll found that 62% of students expected to return to school in person this fall, while 19% of students said they would experience a hybrid model. The move away from predominantly virtual learning bodes well for retailers like Lands’ End, which sell uniforms, and Designer Shoe Warehouse, which sells dress shoes with rigid soles, “Mary Jane” shoes and boat shoes, some of which are schools need.
“It’s all exploding,” said Jim Weinberg, director of merchandising for the shoe retailer.
Orders for back-to-school stocks are typically placed months in advance, a process that has been complicated this year as a shortage of shipping containers and delays at ports disrupted global trade. As a result, Designer Shoe Warehouse took into account 120 days of shipping time, compared to the usual 90 days.
Kohl’s Corp. also decided to import goods quickly due to industry-wide supply chain issues. Bed Bath & Beyond said it is mindful of raw material, labor and freight inflation, and manages shipping costs and delays for products arriving from Asian ports. In some cases, this could increase prices for consumers.
Such measures might disappoint some buyers, as more than half of parents said in Deloitte’s survey that they would seek discounts. Retailers have used the pandemic to reset their relationship with promotions; many began to offer them less frequently and became more comfortable buying less inventory. This position will now be tested during this time of year when clients have been trained to expect trades. Sides says the families may or may not be able to strike a deal.
“Retailers are probably happy because they will get a higher price,” he said.
Back to school provides important, actionable clues about which products shoppers like, said Doug Howe, Kohl’s director of merchandising.
This time of year “is one of the most exciting because it’s usually a preview of what’s going to happen for the holidays, which is obviously our biggest season,” Howe said. “There are a lot of trends that are going to emerge that we will be pursuing on vacation.”