Back-to-school marketing is up and so are sales

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Record spending

In a year like no other, experts predict spending like never before. With many students learning virtually last year, families failed to stock up on typical must-haves like backpacks, pencils and fall apparel. They’re making up for it this year. The National Retail Federation is expecting back-to-school spending, including elementary level through high school, to reach $37.1 billion, a record and a 9% rise over last year, and college spending to reach $71 billion, also a record and a 5% rise over 2020.

Much of the jump is coming from younger generations, like millennials, whose Gen-Alpha-aged kids are now in elementary and middle school. A recent Ad Age-Harris Poll survey found that 67% of millennials expect to shop back-to-school events this year, up from 63% last year.

Consumers, like brands, are planning ahead. Amazon searches for school supplies and college dorm essentials like laundry bags saw spikes in late June this year, compared to a typical timeframe in late July and August, according to analytics firm Profitero. The rush goes beyond simple enthusiasm for a return to school—consumers are worried about essential items selling out. Already, popular bag sellers State Bags and Jansport have sold out of several colors of their backpacks.

“Retailers and brands are facing a lot of supply issues right now due to the pandemic and consumers are worried supplies may run out of stock,” says Mike Black, chief marketing officer of Profitero. He adds that shoppers also might be buying early to avoid coming higher prices due to inflation. Profitero’s eCommerce Price Index found that online prices for office supplies and electronics were already up 4.2% in June compared with June of 2020. Many shoppers are just looking for sales—64% of those who say they will shop this season are doing so simply for discounts, according to the Ad Age-Harris Poll.

Yet while brands are doubling down on their marketing investments to capture a piece of…