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Back-to-School 2018: Retail Scenario, Fashion Trends & Consumer Spending

by Anjori Grover Vasesi

03-September-2018  |  12 mins read

    Apart from bidding adieu to lazy vacation days and the peak of Summer, what defines the month of August is a huge market audience of parents and their kids, eagerly looking towards the onset of yet another term… and scouting stores – both online and offline – to make for the perfect Back-to-School wardrobe.

Back-to-School and Back-to-College are massive opportunity areas in the retailscape wherein retailers and brands can expect to observe prodigious sales by applying their trend expertise. It is the busiest shopping season followed closely by the Winter holidays, and can contribute a third of profits for retailers. It is imperative to mention here that, BTS consumers spend more during this season than the combined spend witnessed on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

Spending is expected to reach US $ 82.8 billion in the US alone this year, with households planning to spend more than double in-store as compared to online.

The claims for average spend this year varies from source to source, including National Retail Federation, which states the average household spend to be US $ 942; and Deloitte, which forecasts it to be US $ 685 on everything from clothes, to electronics, to school supplies to dorm furnishings.


The ’90s are back – big retailers, such as Urban Outfitters Inc, American Eagle Outfitters Inc, etc. are betting on nostalgic references and filling stores with fanny packs, chunky-soled sneakers and high-waisted ‘mom jeans’ to tap onto Back-to-School sales.

With Back-to-School spending expected to rise this year, owing to a strong economy and higher consumer confidence, retailers are hoping that the resurrection of ’90s fashion will fuel a recovery in the sector after facing a period of declining sales through several quarters.

It is worth mentioning here that established athletic brands such as Nike and Adidas have boomed with the popularity of this trend – their logos alone posing as fashion statements. Specialists are up, like Nike which is up by 22%, Joules which is up by 49% and Petit Bateau which is up by 123% from BTS 2017.

According to Edited, footwear is raising its Back-to-School profile, with 17% more product in stock and prices up by 14% on shoes and 19% on sneakers. The estimated per-shopper spend is up 7% year-on-year, as per data shared by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Sneakers have emerged as a popular item over the past few years and the trend shows no sign of diminishing owing to the sustained popularity of athleisure and the growing hype surrounding streetwear trends.

School uniforms are also a growing market as more and more schools require students to wear uniforms. In lieu of this, an increasing number of retailers are looking at this assortment more carefully including Amazon, Walmart and  Target.

According to Prosper, the percentage of children wearing uniforms to school is up 1.1 percentage points over last year’s 26.1%. This marks the second-highest report in the survey’s history (2015 was the highest, at 28.1%).


The success of the BTS and BTC categories is based on pleasing not one, but two consumers – students, who seek on-trend styles to reflect their individuality and gain acceptance among their peers, and their parents, who search for affordable prices. These two consumers are on either end of the spectrum and pleasing both at the same time requires a considerable amount of research and understanding of market dynamics.

The present day BTS and BTC consumer is an aware shopper looking everywhere from department stores to specialty stores and online e-shops to find the best deal that matches his/her preferences.

In terms of Online vs. Offline, 57% of BTS spend is intended to take place in-store. Data revealed by Deloitte suggests that mass merchants will emerge as the top shopping preference, with the vast majority of households (83%) planning to visit such retailers. The psychology behind this is the fact that customers tend to spend more when they are shopping from traditional retailers such as department stores, home electronics stores, and office supply stores owing to the familiarity conditioned in their mindset.

While planning their assortments, retailers should take the swelling purchasing influence of Gen Z into consideration. These kids are more likely to steer parents’ purchasing decisions than consumers before them. If products don’t appeal to the child, it’s not coming back home with them.

Retailers should also note where all consumers are planning to shop, what items they are planning to buy, and how digital will affect their final decision making.

Here is an analysis into the key performing trends for this season and how they are set to influence the approaching year…


The overarching theme of functionality and comfort filter out to the younger target market as well, making activewear a hot category this season. Students want to be comfortable in and outside the classroom – a demanding schedule festooned with extracurricular activities inclines parents and students to opt for merchandise that is versatile and functional.

Expected to continue growing at a steady pace, the activewear segment is enjoying a growth of 8%, up from 7% in 2017 and 6.5% in 2016. Performance gear, sporty tees, soft cotton blend hoodies, drawstring waists, half-zip sweaters, loungewear pants, tracksuits and knit base sneakers pose as popular pieces amongst students.

Brands that combine sportswear’s versatility with style and luxury are positioned for success during this Back-to-School season.


A key international retail bestseller from the first six months of 2018, front tie tops will continue to go strong well into Fall/Winter 2018. Available in cropped as well as full shirt styles (in tops) and also over one-piece jumpsuits as a design element, the retro-isque front-knot tops show fast consumer absorption.

Data collected by Style Sage suggests a sustained growth in the average product count beginning June 2018 from fast-fashion retailers such as Forever 21 and ASOS.

’90s BABY

The ’90s theme has swept the kidswear market. Data proposes that online pieces that arrived in the last three months sold out at full price, signalling a huge pool of opportunity here.

Merchandise that mimics nostalgic references to ’90s hit TV series such as Friends is majorly influencing shoppers this year. Pieces such as corduroy skirts, cardigans, denim overalls, high-rise mom jeans, plaid shirts, mini-skirts and crop tops have seen a positive boost. Details such as retro stripes, checkerboard print patterns, retro logos, and colour blocking have also emerged as directional trends.

According to Edited, the trend revelled in a six-fold increase in the number of kidswear products termed as 90s’ style in July at online e-shops.


Hard to pin down under a particular trend, the colour palette enjoyed by the Back-to-School category largely comprises of rich tones.

Following the runway trends of Fall last year, the assortment for boys boasts of a lot of black and red references. Expect techniques such as colour blocking and checkerboard reference to be stand-outs for the season.

Yellow, golds and lilacs are a big hit for young girls, along with shades of dusty pink and powder blush.


A seasonal staple, checkered prints have been a dominant design element since ages, and have evolved from their original Scottish roots to take on more experimental themes.

For this season, students are looking at this heritage print and incorporating it into edgy layering separates such as plaid co-ordinates, trousers, tops, and scarves. As Fall approaches, it is expected that this trend would continue to spike up in terms of the numbers of pieces being introduced by various retailers and brands, continuing well into the Winter holiday season.


Offering the cornerstones of both utility and versatility, dungarees or overalls pose as a retail favourite for students and parents alike. Their no-fuss characteristics make them quick selling pieces and a safe bet with retailers.

Furthermore, the resurgence of ’90s inspired nostalgia in fashion, makes this a hot item for the season…, suitable to be worn with both short and long sleeve tees and sweaters; grant this trend the title of being a year-round staple.

ASOS and Forever 21 showed a marked increase in overalls during the month of July 2018.


Contrary to the rise in loungewear and comfort dressing, Spring/Summer 2018 saw an upward spike in denim products being offered by different retailers.

According to Elizabeth Melley, Vice President of children’s and men’s product development at JCPenney, styles such as high-waists, ankle lengths, clean finishes, black washes and exposed button flys are in trend for the junior category.

For girls, pieces that incorporate stretch, embroidery and embellishments, destruction, and styles such as denim jackets and cuffed and cropped hems are trending whereas for boys, pieces featuring destruction, cuffed and cropped hems in black washes take the cake.

Standout trends include patchwork denim over jackets and jeans, combined with ripped/distressed detailing. Brands with skills in intricacy are enhancing their basic denim offerings with overlaid patterns or embroideries that feature floral and/or cosmic references. What is to be noted here is that, in July alone, the number of embroidered jeans that sold out at ASOS rose by 9%.