ICSC Survey: Consumers To Spend Less On Back To School

Back to school

Back-to-school shoppers in 2021 are ready for a fresh start this fall after schooling at home during the pandemic but may spend a bit less, according to a survey from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). 

According to the results of the annual survey, shoppers said they plan to spend an average of $954 on school-related items. This compares to an average spend of $1,053 in 2020 and $961 in 2019. 

“As states across the country continue to fully reopen, the majority of consumers are returning to their pre-pandemic shopping behaviors,” said Tom McGee, president and CEO of ICSC. “Consumer confidence and spending will be the driving force that helps to reinvigorate the U.S. economy; back-to-school and the upcoming holiday shopping seasons will contribute to elevating profits to the levels we saw prior to the pandemic.”


Shoppers that indicated spending more this year on back-to-school purchases say that rise is due to additional COVID-19 supplies that are needed, such as masks, sanitizers and disinfecting cloths (33%); a need to replace wardrobe and/or school supplies or sporting equipment (32%); a change in the number of individuals attending school (27%); the items being more expensive (22%); and a change in job status or income (15%).

Promotions will play a significant role with 86% of back-to-school shoppers saying sales will influence their purchases. Forty-seven percent mentioned that once they are in a store, promotions influence what they buy; 38% plan their back-to-school shopping around specific promotional events and dates such as sales tax holidays and big sales, and 32% plan to take advantage of the deals they receive from membership programs or loyalty rewards programs.

This year, shoppers will take advantage of both in-store and online shopping options with 38% planning to make more purchases online and 27% taking advantage of buying online and picking up their purchases in a store.

“Our back-to-school survey confirms that planning, shopping, and spending habits among adults look much like they did before the pandemic,” McGee continued. “Consumer spending will help bolster a reinvigorated economy as we emerge from our stay-at-home lives. Consumer traffic and spending continue to increase as regular activities continue to resume across the country.”

The ICSC Back-to-School Survey was conducted online by Engine Insights on behalf of ICSC July 9-11, 2021. The survey represents a demographically representative sample of 1,003 U.S. respondents. Spending numbers are comprised of K-12 and college spending.