Old School, New Normal: Back-to-School Shopping Trends

Most US schools are planning to be fully open this fall. Parents and kids alike are looking forward to relegating virtual learning to the past and resuming the old normal. And with this resumption of old familiar ways comes the need for new supplies.

Sezzle conducted a survey of 1,458 US consumers with school-aged children in July 2021 to learn how they are planning on shopping in the back-to-school category. The pandemic has brought about some changes in back-to-school priorities. Our study shows that since kids will be in the classroom this fall, parents will be spending considerably more than last year on back-to-school supplies.

While parents have been waiting to assess the situation, there has been less time for advanced planning this year. 57% of those surveyed said they’re doing all their back-to-school shopping within one month of school starting, or even waiting until shortly after it starts. And the late start that customers are getting on back-to-school shopping means there is still plenty of time to win their business!

Here’s a look at the trends.

On the whole, 47% of Sezzlers have kids in school. 69% of Sezzle parents are planning to spend more than in 2020. Over the past year, distance learning kept back-to-school spending lower than normal, but the return to the classroom (and for older kids to the dorm) means a wide range of supplies will be needed after a year of remote schooling from home.

Depending on their age and destination, supplies and expenses for kids will vary, but the most universal needs are shoes and clothing, along with general classroom supplies (such as notebooks, pens and pencils, and backpacks), which over 90% of consumers plan on purchasing. Also high on the list: food and food prep supplies for 59% of consumers. 46% are looking to invest in new technology – from computers to printers to phones. For kids heading to college – travel, furniture and home goods round off the expanding and costly list. All these items take a large bite out of the monthly budget and this can be a serious concern for many families.

In short, the return to school can be expensive, so it is no wonder that 82% of Sezzle users claim that it is important for a retailer to have a BNPL option. Not surprisingly, 95% of Sezzlers would spend more at a retailer for back-to-school shopping if they offered Sezzle. Expenditures can run high, and price and payment options are extremely important factors when selecting a retailer to purchase back-to-school supplies from. For over 90% of users, price is an important factor when selecting a merchant. But with long lists of supplies needed all at once, even at great prices, it can be difficult to manage the monthly budget – and Sezzle helps back-to-school shoppers afford more of their essential items and keep their budgets in check. 71% said that BNPL allowed them to afford more than they could have otherwise (and maybe splurge on a few extras) by helping them manage their budget by paying over time, and without interest.

Back-to-school shopping may feel a little different this year, but nothing kicks off the onset of a new school year like shopping and preparing for new things to come. This year, that is even more the case than ever. After a season missed through lockdown, new supplies and a fresh start are great reasons to get excited for a successful return to something a little more normal.

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