Although some U.S. districts have only just recently closed their doors on the 2023/2024 school year, July is underway, which means back-to-school is just around the corner for many students. But the season has been undergoing some shifts, which will continue to play out this year.

Here are three key expectations for the footwear industry this back-to-school season:

Consumers will shop according to their calendars, not retail’s

Last August, 60% of K-12 parents reported that they typically make their back-to-school footwear purchases “close to the start of school,” according to Circana’s Omnibus survey. We saw this purchasing behavior play out in the flow of sales for the season, despite early brand and retailer marketing and promotions. In fact, last year, footwear sales peaked during the first two weeks of August, just ahead of the peak school start weeks, according to Circana’s Retail Tracking data.

Assuming the 2024 school start dates are similar, we can expect the same pattern this year; however, retail calendar shifts, with the addition of a 53rd week back in January, will push one of these weeks into the month of July and the second retail quarter.

Sales of footwear for kids and teens will likely outperform the adult market

This may sound obvious since we are talking about back-to-school sales, but the nature of the season has changed. Traditionally it was an opportunity to stock up on fall essentials for the whole family, but today it’s about getting the kids what they need to start school. Weather fluctuations and tighter budgets are causing consumers to focus on what they need in this moment, rather than buying ahead of season.

Back-to-school season aside, we also see that parents have been prioritizing footwear purchases for their kids throughout the year. In the 12 months ending April 2024, year-over-year sales of footwear to be worn by kids and teens under 18-years-old grew by 7%, while sales of footwear for adults declined by 3%, according to Circana’s Consumer Tracking data.While sales for all wearers ages 7 and older increased, most of the growth came from sales for teens, who are primarily wearing adult shoe sizes. This knowledge is important for brands and retailers to consider as they plan out their back-to-school merchandise flow and marketing strategies.

Promotional activity will be typical and won’t be the main driver of purchasing

Last year, the percentage of footwear units sold on promotion from June through August returned to pre-pandemic 2019 levels, according to Circana’s Consumer Tracking data, after two years of volatility: a dip in 2021 when supply was low and demand was high, followed by a sharp increase in 2023 when supply was more plentiful, but demand was slower. Overall, the pandemic-driven ups and downs in promotional activity have leveled out, so for this season, it will likely remain close to that more typical level. And, while consumers are focused on value, this doesn’t ensure that discounts will drive demand. Footwear promotional effectiveness was down in Q1 2024, based on Circana’s Price and Promotion Trends data. And, when asked what factor tends to influence their footwear purchases for kids and teens, just one-third of consumers cited promotions and discounts – behind quality, price, and child or teen requests, according to Circana’s Future of Footwear study.

The occasion of back-to-school shopping has taken on new meaning as consumers adjust their shopping cycles and navigate economical obstacles including tighter budgets. Brands and retailers that recognize this, and tailor their merchandising and messaging accordingly, will be top-of-mind when shoppers arrive at their “need now, buy now” moments.

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