The “Back-to-School” shopping season has begun! The season accounts for a significant portion of sales for retailers in the US, as households buy school supplies, clothes, and student decor. As of June 2021, it looked as though the pandemic was possibly coming to a close, or at least manageable, in the United States. However, the rise of the Delta variant has changed that outlook with mask mandates going into effect to protect the vulnerable and slow the infection rates. Regardless of these ongoing developments, everyone needs to purchase new items and supplies. As such, back-to-school numbers will be a true barometer for the economy as many people return to pre-pandemic routines, including full days in school and returns to the office.

According to U.S. News & World Reports, consumer confidence stayed unchanged from June to July 2021, surprising many economists who were expecting a decline. CNBC notes that this steadiness and consumer conference may have been spurred by the continued monthly payments for the child tax credits which will continue for about 39 million households (nearly 90% of children in the U.S.) through December 2021. Bloomberg cites a Deloitte LLP forecast that spending reach $32.5 billion, up 16% from 2020 and 17% from 2019.

Items to watch for in this Back-to-School season, include:

  1. Will the supply chain continue to cause delays? Many of us have encountered delays in products over the last 18 months – whether it be toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic or appliances today. Delays at global ports could continue to hurt the back-to-school shopping season, which could lead to less sales, and more full price items.
  2. Will the Delta variant delay shopping? According to Chain Store Age, the back-to-school shopping spike could be delayed. One big reason is that prime day already occurred in June. With several schools not even completing their spring semester, the back-to-school season had not even technically begun. Now with the Delta variant rising, will consumers wait longer to buy products for the school season anticipating a possible delay?
  3. Will technology continue to dominate back-to-school shopping? Last year, technology was a huge spend for parents and students learning to get use to ZOOM classrooms, including auxiliary gadgets such as computer lighting, microphones and/or computer cameras. Will this year also include a spend on those items?
  4. Will apparel rebound? As kids return to school, and adults head back to the office, in person, fashion seems to be considered “in”. A resurgence in apparel is expected as people need to know how to dress for the occasion. This is also expected to lead to an increase in other items such as makeup.
  5. Will consumers feel confident about going back in the stores? According to Deloitte, parents look to replenish items not purchased since prior to the pandemic. Just how much this projection will be is the question. However, Marketing Dive notes in a recent survey that 89% percent of parents plan to shop at physical retailers and nearly 60% stating they would be “very comfortable” doing so.

This back-to-school season will be a bellwether for the economy and the direction of the retail industry. Strong sales can lift retailers expectations as well as the economy. With all the factors listed above, there are still cautious optimism for this back-to-school season, despite the many uncertainties.

Stark & Stark’s Shopping Center and Retail Development Group can assist you. Feel free to contact Shareholder Thomas Onder at (609) 219-7458 or, as well as Shareholder Dolores R. Kelley at (609) 791-7005 or Mr. Onder and Ms. Kelley write regularly on commercial real estate issues and are both active members of International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). Mr. Onder is State Chair for ICSC PA/NJ/DE region.