Five key back-to-school shopping trends

By Scott Rankin

More than ever, retailers need to properly position themselves to win in the lucrative 2019 back-to-school shopping season. The race to market is already on this year, so retailers need to understand how consumer preferences are shifting, how consumers will spend their money, and how the digital and physical worlds merge.

To uncover the key 2019 back-to-school shopping trends, KPMG surveyed more than 500 U.S. back-to-school shoppers in late June 2019. The key findings shed light on how retailers can adapt their strategies and approaches to profit off this back-to-school season.

Here are the five need-to-know back-to-school shopping trends based on the data from the survey:


1.       The race for market share is already on

July and August are the most important months for retailers to attract back-to-school customers, and closing sales quickly is critical. Fourty-two percent of the shopping started in July, while the majority (47%) will be in August. In addition, 62 percent of the shoppers will complete most of their purchasing within the first week.

2.       Online shopping will drive incremental spend increases

There is a small uptick to back-to-school spending expected this year, to an average of $432. The main source of this increased spend is online shopping, with the majority of online shoppers spending $534. A 38 percent increase in spend is expected by majority-online versus brick-and-mortar shoppers. There is also a five percent increase to 61 percent, of the shoppers doing  over 25 percent of their shopping online.

3.       All destinations and categories remain relevant

Both online and brick-and-mortar shoppers name mass merchants as their most popular shopping location. An eight percentage point increase of online-only retailers is expected this year to 47 percent versus 39 percent last year. There is only one percentage point increase this year to 76 percent of mass merchant shoppers. The most popular items to buy this year are core school supplies (88%), followed by footwear (84%), non-footwear apparel (61%) and electronics (37%).

4.       Strong online presence is fundamental

Both majority-online and majority-brick-and-mortar shoppers plan to use online search to help them shop for back-to-school. Forty-five percent of all shopper will use online search to find the best products at the best value, at the prices they want, followed by printed circulars at 38 percent.

5.       Consumers will actively seek value

Price remains the most important factor when shoppers decide where to shop for back-to-school, at 77 percent. Forty-four percent of shoppers will check for deals and discounts on specific items, while 34 percent will check in-store prices online. Heavy spenders, particularly, are focused on accessing deals and discounts with 36 percent checking if the product they want is in stock.

Considering the various pressures in the market, retailer this back-to-school season need to navigate the disruption and improve top and bottom line results by deriving insights from data and analytics, as well as developing targeted strategies across markets, categories and promotion

Scott Rankin is a principal in KPMG Strategy and Consumer and Retail leader. For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Andreas Marathovouniotis.

Media kit

Acing the back-to-school shopping season
With shoppers expected to surpass last year’s total spending of upwards of $25 billion, the 2019 pre-K-12 back-to-school shopping season promises to be a lucrative opportunity for retailers – if they position themselves to win. But making the right decisions to capitalize isn’t so simple.

Scott Rankin

Scott Rankin

Advisory Industry Leader for Consumer & Retail, KPMG US

Media contact


Andreas Marathovouniotis

Andreas Marathovouniotis

Associate Director, Corporate Communications, KPMG US

+1 201-307-7608