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Buying in Bulk to Combat Inflation: Back-to-School Shopping Trends in 2022

This year’s fluctuating consumer spending on school supplies mirrors the current state of our economy and the retail trends we’ve seen over the past few months — and it’s not a straightforward story. 

  • Inflation has raised product prices and affected consumer spending, while families are adjusting to a broad return to in-person learning after pandemic-driven remote learning. 
  • Overall, it seems parents do intend on spending slightly more this back-to-school season ($864, compared to $849 in 2021, accordingly to National Retail Federation). 
  • And yet, more parents than ever are saying they plan to reuse school supplies they already have, cut back on frivolous spending, and search for the best deals.

So what does this actually mean for back-to-school spending and what products are parents buying online in 2022? We looked at Amazon keyword and sales data to find some real answers.

Online spending on school supplies is trending down for 2022 — but with a few winning products

First, we examined how consumers are reacting to economic forces, and how that is affecting their product search and shopping behaviors.

Yes, inflation affects school supplies, too

Inflation, which has surpassed 9%, continues to have far-reaching effects on the majority of businesses and consumers. And gasoline and groceries aren’t the only categories impacted by inflation-related price hikes. 

The cost of essentials like backpacks has gone up 10% percent, and lunch boxes have seen an 8% percent increase. The same goes for back-to-school kits, which have increased by 16%. 

In fact, ready-made back-to-school kits have become increasingly appealing for parents this year, with revenue from this supply kit soaring 680% in the last month. 

Consumers want to save money

Around 38% of consumers say their household income is unstable, and more than half (52%) say they only buy products that are on sale. It is likely that consumers will find ways to save during this back-to-school season, even if that means cutting into the budgets of other household expenses. (In fact, the National Retail Federation’s survey also found that more families plan to skip travel or dip into savings to combat back-to-school prices.)

Buying in bulk is also one of the ways that consumers are trying to beat inflation this back-to-school season. Best-selling products purchased in bulk include:  

Back-to-school searches on Amazon have declined 

A less expected shopping trend this year is a switch from online to in-store shopping. A survey conducted by Deloitte found that 49% of parents plan to do the majority of their shopping in-store at mass retailers, compared to 16% who say they plan to shop at online-only retailers. 

Between July 1 to 31, search volume for the keywords “back to school” and “back to school supplies” increased 270% and 316% respectively. However, compared to 2021, search volume for these keywords is actually down approximately 66% for “back to school” and 68% for “back to school supplies.” 

While keyword searches for school supplies and kids’ clothing have increased in the last month, they have also significantly declined year-over-year. 

Here’s a sampling of the kinds of searches consumers are doing on Amazon:

  • Back to school kits: up 336% in the past 30 days (Jul 1 – Jul 31, 2022)
  • Back to school supplies: up 316% in the past 30 days (Jul 1 – Jul 31, 2022), a decrease from July 2021 (up 1006%)
  • Back to school: up 270% from Jul 1 – Jul 31, 2022. However, this a decrease from the same time period in 2021 (up 739%)
  • School supplies: up 88% from Jul 1 – Jul 31, 2022, but down 129% compared to an increase of 217% in July 2021
  • Back to school clothes: up 113% in July 2022, a decrease from July, 2021 (up 496%)
  • Backpacks for school: up 147% in July 2022, a decrease from July, 2021 (up 2512%)
  • Back to school shirt: up 335% in July 2022, a decrease from July, 2021 (up 380% in 2021)

  • Girls clothes: up 10% in July 2022, a decrease from July, 2021 (up 42%)
  • Boys clothes: up 16% in July 2022, a decrease from July, 2021 (up 42%)

Based on search volume alone, it would appear that it’s business as usual for purveyors of back-to-school staples. However, unit sales and revenue on Amazon tell a different story.

Some school supply categories are down in revenue and unit sales — but not all

Compared to sales data from last year, revenue in certain school supply categories on Amazon is lower as U.S. consumers gear up for their second season of in-person learning. 

Here is a breakdown of how back-to-school revenue is shaping up on Amazon, comparing the period of June 1 to August 1, 2022, to the same period in 2021. 

Categories showing negative growth

Jungle Scout data indicates negative year-over-year growth in revenue and unit sales in some surprising niches. An important caveat to this analysis is that, while entire categories of school supplies appear to be in decline this year, the leading brands and products in each generally show positive year-over-year revenue. 

Lunch boxes

Category revenue for kids’ lunch boxes is down 36%, and unit sales are down 31% in June-July 2022 versus the same period in 2021. Consumers may be reacting to higher product costs (this category is seeing an 8% year-over-year price increase) and using their old lunch boxes longer before replacing them.

Pencil Cases 

Sales of pencil cases aren’t faring well despite a cost decrease of  12% year-over-year in this category. Revenue is down 20% and unit sales are down 11% in 2022. Pencil cases may also fall into the category of items that are being reused as consumers look for ways to save money, or students may simply be using fewer pencils as they work more digitally.

First Day of School Signs 

The first day of school pictures featuring personalized signs continue to flood social media feeds. However, revenue is down 14% and unit sales are down 8% in 2022. Parents and guardians must be making homemade versions or reusing ones from years past to cut costs. 

Categories showing positive growth

With the return to the classroom, online shopping carts are being filled with “the basics.” This is a change from the past two years when consumers invested in technology for at-home learning. 

Back-to-School Kits 

The appeal of one-stop shopping can be seen with the rise in popularity of back-to-school kits such as this bestseller containing 32 essential items. Revenue for this category is up 136% and sales units have seen a 115% increase. 

Notebooks

Consumers are still purchasing classic composition and spiral books like this best-selling multipack from Mead. Generally speaking, revenue is up 24% and unit sales of notebooks are up 23% year over year. This category is on the rise after experiencing a 39% drop in unit sales and a 34% revenue decrease in 2021.  

Backpacks

The allure of a shiny new backpack like this top seller has consumers willing to pay up. Unit sales of backpacks are up 6% and revenue is up 15% year over year, despite a 10% category cost increase this year. This is in contrast to last year’s 43% dip in revenue and unit sales. 

What’s happening with back-to-school shopping in 2022? 

Whatever the cause, it’s clear that consumer spending on school supplies during the summer back-to-school rush isn’t as robust this year as in 2021, or even during pre-pandemic days. However, even as inflation continues to affect on our economy, it’s likely that many parents will do whatever they can to ensure their kids have everything they need for the school year. 

Methodology

Data in this report is representative of the U.S. Amazon market. Insights on Amazon keyword search volume, revenue, and unit sales were sourced from Jungle Scout Cobalt, Keyword Scout, and Jungle Scout Extension. Year-over-year percent increases in category revenue compared the period of June 1 – August 1, 2022, to June 1 – August 1, 2022. Percent increases for keyword search volume reflect July 2022 versus July 2022. 

Consumer data was sourced from Jungle Scout’s Q2 2022 Consumer Trends Report. 

For more information about this report and/or Jungle Scout’s data, please contact [email protected].

Contact [email protected] today to see how Jungle Scout Cobalt can help you explore sales data and provide strategic insights into consumer behavior on Amazon.

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