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Retail Industry Updates

It Should be a Robust Retail Season for School Supplies


School’s out for summer, but retailers are already thinking about the upcoming school season, which should see most all kids returning to the classroom.

Retailers are about a month out from the back-to-school supply season, which begins about July 15. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, U.S. retail sales are expected to grow 5.5% (excluding automotive and gas) during the critical July 15 through Sept. 6 back-to-school period compared to the same time in 2020. Compared to 2019, sales are expected to grow 6.7%.

“Back to school has always been a prime season for retailers. This year, the broader reopening brings an exciting wave of optimism as children prepare for another school year, and the grown-ups in their lives approach a similar ‘return to office’ scenario,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Purchase, N.Y.-based Mastercard and former CEO and chairman of Saks Incorporated. “This back-to-school season will be defined by choice as online sales remain robust, brick-and-mortar browsing regains momentum and strong promotions help retailers compete for shoppers’ wallets.”

As the broader U.S. reopening occurs and consumers return to brick-and-mortar stores, Mastercard said it anticipates e-commerce sales will ease slightly compared to last year (-6.6%) but will remain up a significant amount (+53.2%) when compared to 2019. In terms of what consumers are buying this back-to-school season, Mastercard expects the following retail trends:

• Apparel refresh: While “athleisure” was the fashion statement of 2020, this year brings the diversification of the wardrobe as in-person schooling, reunions and other events drive consumers to make their social debuts in style. Apparel is expected to grow 78.2% year over year and 11.3% year over two years.

• Department store shopping returns: Department stores, outdoor shopping centers and malls will definitely be busier. Mastercard forecasts a 25.3% year over year and 9.5% year over two years increase in the department store sector as they rebound from last year’s dip in foot traffic. Buy online, pick-up in store and contactless delivery will remain important as consumers continue to seek low-contact experiences.

• Tech upgrade: Mastercard anticipates electronics sales will increase 13.0% year over year and 9.6% year over two years.

Mastercard said the anticipated back-to-school sales growth is a continuation of ongoing retail sales momentum, with May marking the eighth consecutive month of retail sales growth. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, U.S. retail sales, excluding automotive and gasoline, increased 12.2% in May when compared to May 2020 and 10.2% compared to May 2019. Online sales in May grew 1.1% and 94.8% compared to the same previous periods.