As summer draws to a close and the world of fashion launches fall collections, consumers and retailers alike question what back-to-school (BTS) shopping will look like this year. Many parents are still in the dark as to whether school will continue to be held virtually or in the classroom. Due to the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, retailers know that this year will be a different kind of back-to-school shopping. They are scaling back on normal BTS clothing, like jeans, tees, and sweaters, and placing their apparel bets on loungewear, activewear, and other comfy items to wear while “distance learning.”
BTS Clothing – Activewear Keeps Winning
According to MSN, online sales of activewear are on the rise. For example, our partner ASOS reported that its activewear sales nearly doubled from March through June 2020 compared to the same time last year. This is in line with our aggregated retail data from Fit Intelligence – Fit Analytics’ business intelligence portal. We saw a 124% increase in conversions for activewear during the pandemic compared to the same time last year.
Old Navy didn’t shy away from these facts when preparing to launch a new back-to-school clothing collection targeted at tweens. With the collection already designed and in production, it was too late to cancel the release. Instead the retailer shifted its focus on marketing the comfort and active assortment within their BTS clothing collection, knowing that those have been the best performers during COVID-19.
Changes in Consumer Shopping Behavior
These statistics from major retailers demonstrate the changing behavior of shoppers this back-to-school season. “There’s talk about an unprecedented spend for back-to-school but it’s in tech. The need for BTS clothing — jeans, uniforms, backpacks — is not going to be anywhere near the demand we have seen in the past,” states an industry expert in WWD.
Key Back-to-School Clothes Decline in Conversions
With this in mind, we looked at the data from our 200+ partners to see evidence of a dip in conversions for BTS clothing. Fit Intelligence proves that there has been a steady decrease in conversions for key items like sweaters, long sleeve shirts, and jeans. When comparing May-June 2020 to the same time last year, we saw significant declines for all three product categories.
Sweaters and long sleeve shirts experienced a drop in conversion of 21% and 18% respectively when comparing May-June 2020 to the same time last year. Denim conversions were affected the most with a decline of 32% compared to last year.
According to market research firm NPD Group, denim sales have decreased by double digits in the last three months compared to the same time last year. Premium denim brands are taking an even harder hit, realizing declines of 40% during that same period.
Focus Shifts to Tech
It’s no surprise that these usual BTS clothing best sellers have dropped in sales this year. Parents appear to be more focused on providing their children with the necessary tools to successfully learn at home. E-learning requires technology – laptops, tablets, etc. These high-priced items will take priority over back-to-school clothing when it comes to parents budgeting for the year.
Retailers recognize these changes and are adjusting their back-to-school launches. Edited found that retailers are releasing 46% fewer new BTS clothing pieces for kids from May to July, compared to the same period last year. With the noticeable shift in apparel options, we expect to see demand for core children’s clothing, like jeans, continue to decline until assortments align with the new “classroom.”
As the world continues to adjust to the changes the pandemic has brought about, retail is learning to roll with the punches. Realizing that certain product categories are selling better than others allows brands to adjust their buys and remain competitive in a tough market. Fit Intelligence identifies that comfort categories and activewear continue to sell better than most products. Our partners have access to shopper, product, and fit insights and can adjust their strategies in the future based on these details.
We are fortunate to have data that paints a picture of what to expect moving forward and we will continue to keep our finger on the pulse of the apparel industry.