Inside the back-to-school 2021 shopping surge, according to Vogue Business

High-income parents in the U.S. are looking to spend more on clothing for their children for the upcoming school year. But some brands and retailers have been struggling with supply chains.

August 11, 2021 – Vogue Business – When Nikki Baird visited a Walmart recently, the back-to-school shelves were cleared out, save for a singular Harry Potter backpack which a mother was trying to upsell to her child.

“If you want a black bag, you’re good. If you want any other kind of colour or pattern or whatever, the choices are very, very limited,” says Baird, VP of retail innovation at retail management company Aptos.

This season, parents in the US are showing particular enthusiasm for back-to-school shopping, with predicted spending up 16 per cent to $32.5 billion from 2020-2021, according to a report from Deloitte. That’s an average of $612 per child.

The spending spree is not just focused on school wardrobe basics. Over half of higher income families are spending more on “fashionable” clothing and athleisure for their children this autumn season. Retailers and brands are taking note: Ssense, Browns, Harvey Nichols and luxury brands such as Fear of God and Rejina Pyo have all launched childrenswear this year.

“Obviously uniform is key. However, we’re also anticipating parents engaging across a whole host of styles,” says Ida Petersson, buying director at Browns. “With children being in and out of school for the past year, we know comfort and allowing kids and teenagers to express themselves and feel confident is so important,” she says. Based on sales analysed to date for this summer, Browns is predicting that parents will be purchasing lots of fun prints in casual wear and smart outerwear options — as well as footwear styles that let kids showcase their personalities, Petersson says. According to Edited, new arrivals for children’s graphic tees are up 66 per cent in the last three months over the same period in 2020.

After a long period of uncertainty linked to the pandemic, parents want to drum up excitement about the back-to-school experience for their children, which is leading some to splurge a little more than usual on childrenswear, says Nata Dvir, chief merchant at US retail giant Macy’s, which counts back to school as a key sales season. In July, the retailer launched its back-to-school campaign, Let’s Get Back In There, across TV and social media.

“Excitement around the product is really starting to happen a little bit earlier,” says Dvir. “We always know that our customer searches earlier, before they start to convert. And so that typically is online, but I’m actually really excited about some of the sell-throughs we have in stores this year too.”

Last year, retailers were challenged to approach back-to-school shopping differently than ever before, says Lana Todorovich, President and Chief Merchandising Officer at Neiman Marcus. “As many of our customers re-introduce themselves into the new-est normal world, we look forward to back-to-school shopping as an important milestone to kick off the Fall season with key trends such as mixed media, jogging sets, tie-dye, camo, and our extraordinary sneaker assortment,” she says.

Nieman Marcus launched Off White and Palm Angels kidswear this year. While kidswear collections from brands like Burberry, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Fendi and Stella McCartney, have lead to double-digit growth as compared to pre-pandemic 2019. Above all, kids sneakers are outperforming all categories, Todorovich adds.

Children have a huge influence over their parents’ back-to-school purchase decisions on clothing, higher than any other category according to a survey from Deloitte. “Parents realise that kids are trying to express themselves, trying to find their identity. And a lot of times they do this with what they wear and the brands they follow, especially in the middle income to higher income categories,” says Rod Sides, vice chairman of retail, wholesale and distribution at Deloitte.

Read more at Vogue Business.