Will Inflation Disrupt Local Back to School Shopping Habits?

The digital marketing platform InMarket is a great resource for insights on how consumer foot traffic patterns can influence marketing decisions. The company has pretty well nailed down the shopping pattern that families follow while sourcing supplies for the new school year.

InMarket analyzes a combination of first-party transactional data plus foot traffic data. This comes from shoppers that have opted into tracking via mobile apps that partners with InMarket.

As the chart below shows, in 2021, consumers began marching into office supply stores in mid-August. Families looking to fill out the fall school shopping list are a big reason for the spike.

Between August 8-15, visits to Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Staples reached levels more than 50% higher than June levels.

And during the week of August 15, Staples saw visits increase 75% above early June. And then visits to these major office supply stores returned to early-June averages by mid-September.

The pattern is similar at bigbox and department stores. It just happens earlier. Last year, visits to Big Box, Department and Discount stores all began increasing mid-June before peaking in mid-August. That’s when many school districts around the country begin the school year.

Will This Year Be Different?

InMarket poses an interesting question, as the current school year draws to a close.

Will the current economic upheaval, namely inflation running at about 8.3%, disrupt these patterns? At the very least, consumers will be looking for bargains.

“This year, with surging inflation impacting consumers’ household budgets, it’s likely many families will seek out deals and promotions in order to minimize spending and maximize every dollar,” InMarket says in its report. “Big Box, Department, and Discount stores typically promote various back-to-school sales and promotions. So it will be critical for stores to not only hold these sales events, but ensure they’re well promoted to capture the attention of today’s growing price-conscious shoppers.”

We also wonder if the predictable waves of school supply shopping will happen sooner than usual. After all, a hallmark of inflation behavior is spending money as soon as possible, for fear that risking prices will eat into purchasing power. However bad our inflation rate is, it may not be sufficient to drive this kind of early purchase behavior. We will find out soon enough if that’s true.

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