When Will U.S. Shoppers Return? Forecasting Back-to-School Crowds

June 06, 2023


Sensormatic Solutions shopper traffic insights give retailers an idea of when to expect back-to-school shopping crowds

By Stan Hopkins, associate director of retail consulting at Sensormatic Solutions

School just ended in many regions, but U.S. retailers are already looking ahead to the back-to-school rush. Despite late July and early August being the traditional start of the season (in 2022, only 12% of students had received their supply lists by early July), retailers are already preparing their stores—and shoppers are already considering where and when they’ll do their shopping.

It’s no surprise as the annual tradition for parents and students is a fixture for brick-and-mortar retail and spending on school supplies has been increasing since 2019. After dipping to just over $26 billion in 2019, U.S. spending on school supplies grew by over $10 billion in just three years ($36.9 billion in 2022). In 2022, 76% of shoppers said they planned to do their back-to-school shopping in stores.

As retailers prepare for 2023’s back-to-school shopping crowd, they can rest easy knowing our shopper traffic insights show the trends we’ve come to expect are likely to continue this year. These informed predications are based upon years of in-store shopper activity broken out by region of the country and other relevant factors. Historically, back-to-school shoppers begin heading to stores a few weeks prior to the start of the local school year.

Sensormatic Solutions data shows that (by region) this year’s busiest back-to-school shopping periods are likely to play out as follows:

  • South: July 30 – August 5
  • West: July 30 – August 12
  • Midwest: Aug 6 – August 19
  • Northeast: August 20 – 26

With these busy days on the horizon, retailers should start readying their floors, staff, and technology suites to streamline shopper journeys. Today’s consumers are focused on experience, and for many that means two things: price and convenience.

Inflation hit school supplies extra hard in 2022 and is predicted to continue this summer, which means shoppers are likely to seek out sales and promotions as much care as they did last year. At the same time, they will prioritize stores with hours, inventory and promotions that fit best around their busy summer schedules—likely the ones that deliver smooth, omnichannel experiences. The retailers that capture these shoppers will be those that manage to deliver competitive prices and experiences on peak traffic days.

Investing in smart analytics tools that deliver personalized and precise customer journeys is a great way to start. Technology that supports traffic monitoring, inventory intelligence, and shopper behavior analysis can help retailers get a better handle on shoppers’ needs and tailor stores to the communities they serve.

Having that granular information on hand—and supplementing it with market data—can help ensure that retailers have everything they need to deliver throughout the back-to-school shopping season. Using these modern tools, retailers can fast-forward their operations to provide exceptional experiences on their busiest days and every day in between.

Want to make sure your store is ready for back-to-school? Read Creating Experiential Retail Along the Shopper Journey for strategies that can help bring your back-to-school plans into the era of experiential retail.


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