College Back-to-School Spending 2021

College Back-to-School Spending 2021

Back-to-School spending took an odd turn last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many to learn from home instead of in person. Spending throughout 2020 became primarily driven by the need to purchase the more expensive items. Items such as laptops, monitors, and desks rather than the typical new clothes and backpacks. However, with pandemic restrictions easing around the country, this 2021 back-to-school season leaves promise for a more regular shopping cycle. It will also be a big determinate of consumer confidence as more students return to normal classroom activities. With that in mind, we’ll analyze some of this year’s predicted spending trends and what this entails for back-to-school marketing. 

Spending Shifts

According to a forecast by Mastercard SpendingPulse, back-to-school sales in the United States are expected to increase by 6.7% from 2019 and 5.5% from 2020. One sector where there will be a noticeable increase is the sales retail sector. Apparel is especially expected to rise about 78% in comparison to the 2020 back-to-school season. Department stores will also benefit as things move in person, with an expected growth of 25% compared to the 2020 season. 

Despite these being more general back-to-school statistics, the retail sector is where we typically see significant college back-to-school spending. Popular items such as dorm decor, clothes, and school supplies are always a go-to when transitioning into the fall semester. College students will also be looking to appear trendy and fashionable after being away from their classmates for so long. This upcoming in-person semester will most definitely ensure a rise in retail spending amongst college students. 


The predicted growth in department store sales as consumers return to browsing in stores does not mean that online shopping is not going to lighten. E-commerce surged dramatically during the pandemic. As a result, consumers have realized how easy it is to shop online. This means online shopping is here to stay. The Gen Z generation is particularly tech-savvy and reliant on online shopping in this increasingly digital age. Digital marketing tactics and social influencers will likely remain valuable for back-to-school college marketing for this reason. 

Considering the shift back to in-person schooling, influencers, in particular, can keep consumers updated on must-have items for this year. College students will be looking at influencers to discern the latest clothing and accessory trends. They’ll also be looking to them for additional must-have items that they can buy with the tap of a finger and have shipped directly to their dorm. 

With a high spending power and finally an in-person semester on the horizon, college students will almost certainly be spending in preparation for the school year. We are ready to help reconnect your brand with college students this coming college season. Your company can count on us to be there for you in a way that will reflect the present realities and various developing spending shifts. 

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