New Teaching Formats Drive Back-to-School Demand

ICSC survey discovers uptick in categories like electronics and furniture this year

NEW YORK--()--oblA new International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) survey finds that the average consumer expects to spend more on back-to-school items this year than in 2019, despite continued uncertainty over school openings. According to ICSC, back-to-school shoppers will spend an average of $1,053 on related items, up approximately $200 from last year, with increased spending on electronics and furniture.

For many students, back-to-school policies remain fluid, and ICSC’s survey provides the most up-to-date picture of plans across the country. It reveals that only 26 percent of respondents indicated school would resume with regular instruction. Twenty-eight percent will resume schooling in an online-only format—an especially popular pursuit in the South (30 percent) and West (40 percent). As a result, shoppers indicated strong demand for electronics (59 percent) and home furnishings (45 percent) to accommodate changes, in addition to standard school supplies and clothing.

“It is encouraging to see consumers planning to spend more on back-to-school this year, especially in light of the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic,” says Tom McGee, President and CEO of ICSC. “Ultimately, the goal is for students to resume their education safely and effectively. Retailers are doing everything in their power to meet changing consumer needs this back-to-school season.”

ICSC’s survey indicates that uncertainty around the structure of learning may be changing how and when consumers shop for goods this year. For example, 62 percent of respondents won’t begin shopping until they have a definitive answer about how their child’s school will reopen, and 65 percent shared that the amount they spend will greatly depend on the schedule and format of their child’s schooling. This could extend the back-to-school shopping season, as 55 percent of consumers intend to make several trips to stores for items, and 58 percent of spending expected to happen in August and September.

Though retailers have faced immense and long-lasting disruption due to COVID-19, ICSC’s survey provides some optimism. Ninety-six percent of respondents will make purchases from stores with a physical presence. Click-and-collect shopping has also become a popular option, with 56 percent expecting to use this method.

“This is no ordinary back-to-school season, but that isn’t deterring consumers from spending money at physical stores,” said McGee. “Back-to-school shopping continues to be popular even in these uncertain times.”


The ICSC Back-to-School Survey was conducted by Engine Insights on behalf of ICSC from July 24-26, 2020. The survey is a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,005 adults 18 years of age and older.


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Stephanie Cegielski


Stephanie Cegielski