There is a “social component” of back-to-school shopping, said Hart Posen, professor of management and a retail expert at UW-Madison. Children are excited to pick out personalized items that will make them look cool in front of their friends, Posen said.
As students and families try to make up for last year, back-to-school excitement is “on steroids,” said Jessica Ogilvie, assistant professor of marketing at Marquette University.
“We forget a big part of being a kid is the cool kids at school you’re trying to impress,” Ogilvie said. “After coming out of a year and a half of us all being blobs, everyone — kids to adults — is trying to reinvent that brand of themselves. And we do that through shopping.”
Ogilvie said personalizing the backgrounds of online classes and strategically picking the tops worn to Zoom meetings limited personal brand expression to a “tiny microscope.” Now, parents and children alike are ready to redefine how they present themselves through retail.
Part of rebranding has meant leaving the sweats at home. Fashion trends are shifting away from loungewear to a sort of hybrid — pieces that merge style and comfort, Horn said. With some workplaces opening back up after months of remote work, stores are even marketing back-to-office supplies, she said.
Federal stimulus checks have also fueled the rise in shopping. The National Retail Federation survey found 43% of respondents planned to use government stimulus money on back-to-school shopping.