Member Exclusive   //   September 1, 2021

Modern Retail Research: Brands are holding back on back-to-school sales

Call it a pandemic effect. Last year, due to Covid-19 and kids schooling from home, brands’ usual late-summer sales bump paled in comparison to prior years. Of course, their back-to-school marketing efforts were also minimized. There was no reason to promote backpacks and gym shoes, plus their budgets across the board were pulled tight. 

Now, with class back in session, many brands are forgoing the opportunity to offer up big promotions around their school-perfect product categories. However, many have returned to investing in back-to-school campaigns to get in front of those in shopping mode. After all, consumers are releasing over a year’s worth of pent-up shopping demand. According to the National Retail Federation, families with elementary through high school plan to spend $848.90, on average, on back-to-school items. That’s $59 more than in 2020.

American Eagle, for one, went big for back-to-school. It enlisted an all-star cast of influencers, including TikToker Addison Rae and “Outer Banks” star Chase Stokes, for a multi-channel, denim-focused marketing push that included a custom Snapchat shopping experience.

In June, Craig Brommers, CMO of American Eagle CMO, called the back-to-school season “the Superbowl of [the retailer’s] calendar year.” He added that the company was planning for a “very robust” back-to-school sales season, thanks to students gearing up to “make the hallway their runway.”  

While campaigns of all sizes have been rolling out, the number of corresponding promotions is tame. According to an August 2021 Glossy and Modern Retail survey of brand employees, just 44% of the 60 respondents said they are running a back-to-school promotion this year of either a percent discount, a shipping discount, a product bundle or a new product. 

Among those deeming an extra incentive necessary to earn school shoppers’ business is DTC eyewear brand Zenni Optical. Earlier this month, Michelle Ticknor, the company’s head of lifestyle and social impact partnerships, pointed to the company’s BOGO sale: “We’re currently running a back-to-school promo that has deep discounts — so you can keep a pair [of glasses] in your glove box, as well as in your handbag.”