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Back-to-School US Retail Sales Expected to Grow 5.5%* Compared to Last Year, According to Mastercard SpendingPulse

Back-to-School US Retail Sales Expected to Grow 5.5%* Compared to Last Year, According to Mastercard SpendingPulse

Anticipated growth builds on positive retail momentum, as Total Retail Sales rose 12%* year-over-year in May, fueled by pent-up demand and reopenings

As students wrap up the current school year, retailers – and parents – are already preparing for a robust back-to-school shopping season as more kids head back into the classroom. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse™, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, U.S. retail sales are expected to grow 5.5% excluding automotive and gas during the critical July 15 through September 6 back-to-school period compared to 2020. Compared to 2019, sales are expected to grow 6.7%.

“Back to school has always been a prime season for retailers. This year, the broader reopening brings an exciting wave of optimism as children prepare for another school year, and the grown-ups in their lives approach a similar ‘return to office’ scenario”

“Back to school has always been a prime season for retailers. This year, the broader reopening brings an exciting wave of optimism as children prepare for another school year, and the grown-ups in their lives approach a similar ‘return to office’ scenario,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and Chairman of Saks Incorporated. “This back-to-school season will be defined by choice as online sales remain robust, brick and mortar browsing regains momentum and strong promotions help retailers compete for shoppers’ wallets.”

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Anticipated Back-to-School Retail Sales

Anticipated Year-Over-Year (YOY) Growth
2021 (July 15-September 6) vs.
2020 (July 16-September 7)

Anticipated Year-Over-Two Years (YO2Y) Growth
2021 (July 15-September 6) vs.
2019 (July 13-September 4)

Total Retail Sales (ex. Auto and Gas)

+5.5%

+6.7%

Total Retail Sales (ex. Auto)

+10.0%

+9.1%

E-commerce Sales

-6.6%

+53.2%

Apparel

+78.2%

+11.3%

Electronics

+13.0%

+9.6%

Department Stores

+25.3%

+9.5%

Source: Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures overall retail sales across all payment types, including cash and check

Sector-Level Back-to-School Trends:

As the broader U.S. reopening occurs and consumers return to brick and mortar, we anticipate e-commerce sales will ease slightly compared to last year (-6.6%) but will remain up a significant amount (+53.2%) when compared to 2019. In terms of what consumers are buying this back-to-school season, we anticipate the following retail trends:

  • Apparel Refresh: While athleisure was the fashion statement of 2020, this year brings the diversification of the wardrobe as in-person schooling, reunions and other events drive consumers to make their social debuts in style. Apparel is expected to grow 78.2% YOY / 11.3% YO2Y.
  • Department Store Shopping Returns: Department Stores, outdoor shopping centers and malls offer a fresh change of scenery for shoppers. We forecast a 25.3% YOY / 9.5% YO2Y increase in the Department Store sector as they rebound from last year’s dip in foot traffic. Buy online, pick-up in store as well as technologies such as contactless will remain important as consumers continue to seek low-contact experiences.
  • Tech Upgrade: If we learned one thing this past year, it’s that technology keeps us connected. With many states and schools determining the virtual/in-person cadence, we anticipate Electronics will be up 13.0% YOY / 9.6% YO2Y.

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Building on Ongoing Retail Momentum:

The anticipated back-to-school sales growth is a continuation of ongoing retail sales momentum, with May marking the eighth consecutive month of Total Retail Sales growth*. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline, increased 12.2% year-over-year in May, and 10.2% compared to May 2019. Online sales in May grew 1.1% and 94.8% respectively, compared to the same periods.

Mastercard SpendingPulse™
U.S. Snapshot – May 2021

Sales Growth
May 2021 vs. 2020

Sales Growth
May 2021 vs. 2019

Total Retail Sales (ex. Auto and Gas)

+12.2%

+10.2%

Total Retail Sales (ex. Auto)

+16.4%

+9.9%

E-commerce Sales

+1.1%

+94.8%

By Sector

Apparel

+75.9%

+14.7%

Department Stores

+212.0%

+4.2%

Furniture & Furnishings

+22.5%

+20.2%

Grocery

+4.8%

+14.4%

Jewelry

+203.4%

+44.7%

Lodging

+254.4%

-1.5%

Restaurants

+84.7%

+7.9%

Source: Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures overall retail sales across all payment types, including cash and check

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