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As parents and students gear up for a more conventional return to school this year, brands and retailers can expect a healthy back-to-school shopping season, according to a survey The Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Ad Age

Spending will likely increase

Of the 32% of US adults that participated in back-to-school sales events last year and plan to do so again this year, most (55%) plan to spend about the same amount.

That said, more consumers are planning to spend more this year rather than less, with 35% who shopped last year saying they’ll spend more and only 8% saying they’ll spend less.

Back-to-school sales aren’t only for kids returning to the classroom

While 39% of consumers plan to shop during back-to-school sales this year, 35% are shopping for supplies for themselves. Notably, the most common reasons to shop are unrelated to the upcoming school year entirely.

In fact, 64% of consumers in our recent survey were planning to shop during back-to-school events this year are doing so simply to take advantage of the discounts. And almost half (49%) plan to do so to stock up on general household supplies (e.g., cleaning products, hand sanitizer, snacks)

Back-to-school shoppers are looking for more than just classroom supplies

A majority (72%) of those planning to shop during back-to-school sales events this year intend to purchase for school and office supplies, such as notebooks, calculators, binders. But general merchandise remains near the top of their shopping list:

o    Clothing and footwear: 69% intend to buy

o    Desk accessories (e.g., pencil holder, calendars, sticky notes): 59% intend to buy

o    Grocery items: 55% intend to buy

Despite their central role in higher education, personal electronics and general décor were less of a priority, making the lists of only 31% and 30% of shoppers, respectively.

Surprisingly, nearly half of consumers (49%) have not seen any back-to-school sales event advertisements this season. However, this increases among those most likely to be participating. More than 60% of Gen Z and 56% of Millennials have seen a back-to-school sales ad this year, compared to only 38% of Gen X and 34% of Baby Boomers. 


This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Ad Age between July 16-19, 2021, among 1,012 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download the full data tables here.

Lucas Strombeck

Author Lucas Strombeck

Lucas Strombeck manages public relations for The Harris Poll and its brand tracking software, Harris Poll Brand Platform. Drawing on his extensive background in data-driven storytelling, he works closely with Harris Poll researchers and media partners to connect the dots between consumer insights, market trends and headline news. Before joining The Harris Poll, Lucas was a senior manager at Walker Sands, where he led PR strategy for fast-growing B2B tech startups and SaaS companies -- primarily in the martech and ad tech space. He is a graduate of Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

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