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Checking In on Back to School 2023

Shira Petrack
July 26, 2023
Checking In on Back to School 2023

We checked in on the foot traffic analytics to see how key retail categories are performing as the Back-to-School 2023 season progresses.

Clothing Category Gets a Major Boost

Following a lull in April and May, the 2023 Back-to-School season is giving retail – and especially the wider apparel segment – a major boost. Since mid-May, nationwide visits to Clothing chains have consistently exceeded 2022 levels, with the visit increase growing larger in recent weeks. Students upgrading their style, parents preparing their growing children for the year ahead, and general consumers looking for new summer looks are driving visits to Clothing chains nationwide. 

Within this already strong category, foot traffic data indicates that off-price and children’s clothing segments are particularly well placed to benefit from the visit surge. YoY visits to the off-price segment have continued to rise, while YoY visits to children’s clothing chains remained elevated throughout June and the first two weeks of July. Should these patterns continue to hold, the brick-and-mortar Clothing category seems favorably positioned for a strong H2.  

Value-Priced Apparel Continues to Grow

YoY visits to thrift stores have been elevated for a while, but Back-to-School season is giving thrift store leader Goodwill an even bigger boost, with YoY weekly visits up by double digits throughout June and early July. Goodwill’s performance along with the strength of the off-price segment suggests that – although consumers may be ready for a wardrobe refresh – budgets remain tight and spending decisions are not being made lightly. 

Back to School Lifts Superstore Visits 

The Back-to-School 2023 season is also pulling up categories that have felt the impact of tighter consumer budgets in recent months. Major superstores and wholesale clubs have seen their YoY visit gap shrink significantly or turn positive in recent weeks as consumers stock up on supplies, clothes, and shoes for the year ahead. 

At the same time, the various sales events scheduled around Prime Day 2023 don’t appear to have moved the needle significantly, with the week of July 10th seeing worse YoY results than the week prior. And the weekly data indicates that Memorial Day also failed to drive a large visit spike. In fact, it was the week of July 3rd that received the biggest superstore visit boost of the past two months, likely driven by July 4th.

The weak YoY numbers for recent sales events may stem from the success of these events last year, but the performances could also offer another indication that some consumers are still being cautious with their spending. Shoppers who are coming to superstores to purchase snacks for their July 4th cookout may not be ready to spend money on the larger ticket items, and some consumers are likely still delaying unnecessary purchases that can wait until the economic situation stabilizes.

Back to School Drives Traffic to Specialty Retailers 

Beyond its impact on the larger retail categories, Back to School 2023 is also reminding consumers of the value of specialty retailers. Brands such as Staples and Best Buy are not necessarily part of most consumers’ regular shopping routine, but shoppers still seem to appreciate walking into a store to get guidance on which laptop or printer to purchase when needed.  

YoY weekly visits to Staples have been elevated most weeks since mid-May 2023, while Best Buy has narrowed its visit gap significantly in recent weeks. 

Back to School Boosts Retail Visits, But Consumer Behavior Remains Cautious 

Comparing 2023 and 2022 foot traffic to major retailers highlights the retail impact of Back to School 2023. Visits to the clothing category – and to its value-priced and children-oriented segments in particular – are up relative to this time last year. Leading superstores and wholesale chains and specialty electronics and office supply retailers are also seeing promising visit trends. 

But the data also indicates that consumers are still cautious, with large sales events failing to provide the significant bump of previous years. As the Back-to-School season wraps up – and with the holidays around the corners – retailers may need to get creative to continue drawing shoppers back to stores amidst a still uncertain climate.  

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