Maria Rugolo

Maria Rugolo 
Director, Industry Analyst

Beth Goldstein

Beth Goldstein 
Executive Director, Industry Analyst, Footwear & Accessories

This year’s back-to-school season will be the closest we’ve seen to pre-pandemic times. However, consumers’ “buy now, wear now” state of mind, combined with current economic and retail pressures, will put a unique twist on shopping behaviors. We can also expect to see changes across perennial back-to-school softlines categories including apparel, footwear, and backpacks.  

At a high level, Amazon Prime Days and other promotions shifting from June (last year) back to July (this year) is expected to positively affect back-to-school sales results, by pulling some shopping activity forward. Apparel stood out, ranking among the top three items consumers reported purchasing during this year’s Amazon Prime Days, just slightly behind tech and beauty products, according to a survey NPD conducted in partnership with CivicScience.

Back-to-school shopping across categories tends to peak during the first week of August. This is also the week when many states participate in tax-free shopping days. But promotional activity this year has been ramping up earlier due to elevated inventories coupled with softer demand, as consumers cope with inflationary pressures.

Following are some more in-depth insights about apparel, footwear, and accessories:

Apparel: The continued migration towards casual wardrobes will affect the types of clothing purchased this back-to-school season, according to NPD’s apparel industry analyst, Maria Rugolo. Sweatshirts, active bottoms, and sweatpants will continue to sell well, as they have since the year began. We can also expect the replenishment of basics – in particular, socks and underwear – to push purchases upward. Although sleepwear sales are down, versus last year, they are still higher than they were in 2019, before the pre-pandemic. It’s also a category that will continue to gain attention – especially from older high-school and college-age consumers, as sleepwear has transformed into “lounge” attire.

Footwear: Sneakers capture most of the kids’ footwear sales during the back-to-school season – almost 80%, according to NPD’s fashion footwear and accessories analyst, Beth Goldstein. We can expect sneakers to dominate sales again this year but heading into the season clogs remain popular (driven by Crocs), as do slippers, for wearing not only at home but also at school. Across the total footwear landscape, unit sales this back-to-school season are likely to remain below 2019 levels, and revenue aligned with 2021 as promotional activity will partially offset the impact of pricing increases.

Accessories: What’s back-to-school without a new backpack? Licensed backpacks based on popular movies, TV shows, books, and video games are always a hit. Video game-themed backpacks have been popular in more recent years, but this year we can expect some current properties, like Minions, to move up in the rankings, according to Beth. For kids and adults alike, added function equals value. This year’s sales comparisons will be favorable, when compared to 2021, when some back-to-school sales were lost to the spring season. Both unit sales and revenue are likely to remain around 2021 levels, as those annual comparisons offset potential softness in demand, and promotional activity partially mitigates the effects of rising prices.

While this back-to-school season will feel more typical than in the previous two years, in terms of in-person learning, consumers are faced with additional pressures this year. Parents always prioritize spending on their children, and the season will no doubt inspire purchases. However, we must acknowledge that current economic circumstances might leave consumers with less discretionary income, causing them to alter their spending behaviors.

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