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Poor Grades, Shifting Landscape of Schooling Drive Earlier Start to Back-to-School Shopping 



While the rapid approach of Memorial Day likely has many Americans thinking of summer plans, some Americans have a different focus altogether: back-to-school shopping for the next school year. Though it may seem far away in the future now, CivicScience polling has shown consumers are beginning to shop earlier and earlier

An updated look at early back-to-school shopping data reveals this trend is continuing in 2024 – nearly half (47%) have already begun shopping for back-to-school supplies. A higher percentage are also further along this year compared to previous years as more than a third say they’ve already done at least half of their shopping, marking a nine percentage point increase over last May and a 14 point jump from May of 2022.

Thirty-four percent will be shopping back-to-school in-store this time around compared to 65% who look to do at least some shopping online, neither percentage has changed much since May 2023. What does look to change, however, is how much they expect to spend – 47% expect to spend more on back-to-school shopping this year, compared to 19% who plan to spend less (n=798 from 05/10/2024 to 05/15/2024). 

Take Our Poll: When do you start shopping for back-to-school items?

Households with struggling students also play a role in earlier shopping.

While cost is likely a motivating factor for early back-to-school shopping, CivicScience data show that having a student struggling with grades in the household is a strong correlation as well. Nearly 70% of student households have a student struggling in one or more areas. Math, reading/writing, and science are the most common. As many as 75% of households with a student struggling in one or more subjects have begun shopping, 28 points higher than the Gen Pop planning to shop back-to-school. Fifty-two percent have done more than half or all of their back-to-school shopping compared to 34% among the Gen Pop who say the same.

The traditional school model featuring a summer vacation is on the decline.

Also likely factoring in to drive earlier back-to-school shopping? A shift away from the traditional school model with summers off in favor of year-round schedules. It’s a trend increasingly seen at school districts across the country as they pilot year-round schedules to combat learning loss seen from the summer months. 

CivicScience polling finds that while a majority (54%) households with school-aged children still say their children attend in-person school on a traditional calendar, that percentage has fallen a notable seven points since this time last year. Sixteen percent say their children attend year-round schools, marking a three percentage point increase over that same time frame. Homeschooling also ticked up a point. 

Weigh In: Should kids go to school year-round?

Back-to-school shopping at this time of year perhaps flies under the radar, with Memorial Day and summer plans approaching. But as schools and parents look for ways to help struggling students in the post-pandemic world, it’s clear that back-to-school shopping is happening earlier and is a trend that retailers should take note of. 

Want to stay ahead of the latest shift in consumer behavior and recognize trends before they happen with insights we don’t publish? Get in touch to see how you can leverage the CivicScience InsightStore™ and its database of over 500K crossable polling questions. 

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