The 2022/2023 school year will be the first since the start of the pandemic where parents and students have certainty about going back to school for the duration of the traditional back-to-school shopping season. However, there are new factors that weren’t part of the equation in 2019 or even in 2021, which will result in a newly elongated and fragmented shopping landscape for this annual retail event – one that will emerge over three semesters of spending.

Essentials First

Students have been in school for the better part of the past school year so the excitement of going back is not as great as it was last year. Consumers are also busier and more distracted by social engagements this summer. Only 26% of U.S. consumers had started their back-to-school shopping as of mid-July and16% said it wasn’t even on their minds yet.

Couple the emotional timing elements with the elevated cost of just about everything and the priority purchases will be uniforms, laptops, and other items needed for the school year. This prioritization was evident over the week of Prime Day and other retailer promotions, when school supplies, footwear, and apparel did not get the same lift as other categories.

Supplies and Dorm Set-up Second

More than half of U.S. consumers are planning to start their back-to-school shopping this year in August. The majority of consumers who are holding off on back-to-school shopping are waiting for sales (41%), while others are waiting for school lists or the start of school to see what is needed.

This wave is when students and parents will begin shopping for pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and other the less specific and easier-to-find school needs. Others will be outfitting college dorms with things like bedding, air purifiers, and storage bins.

Refining Personal Style Comes Third

Shopping for fall clothing to wear in a classroom is low on the list of things to do during the summer months. when the focus is on vacations and fun. Once students are back in school with their peers, they will have a better sense of the personal style they want to feature through their apparel and footwear. At this point, swimwear and shorts are on their way out and the fall season is on the nearby horizon, putting those fall looks more top of mind.

Manufacturers and retailers need to be prepared for consumer spending that will hit different categories at various times over the coming weeks and months. Consumers are still shopping in the moment, but now their eyes are focused on finding good deals.

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