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Back to Stores: Sensormatic Solutions by Johnson Controls Survey Reveals a Return to Pre-pandemic Back-to-School Shopping Habits

  • Survey highlights spending habits and renewed consumer confidence for in-store back-to-school shopping
  • Sensormatic Solutions predicts busiest weeks for back-to-school shopping in Midwest, Northeast, Southern and Western regions
  • As consumer shopping habits evolve, flexible and scalable technology can help create new shopping experiences required to keep up with changing customer expectations

Sensormatic Solutions, the leading global retail solutions portfolio of Johnson Controls, released its third annual U.S. Back-to-School Consumer Sentiment Survey, today, finding that three quarters (76%) of consumers plan to shop in-store this year. The survey reveals a return to pre-pandemic shopping habits for the 2021 back-to-school season.

“As consumer shopping habits shift, so too should retailer’s technology,” said Kim Melvin, global leader of marketing, Sensormatic Solutions. “Flexible and scalable technology can help create new shopping experiences required to keep up with changing customer expectations and varying comfort levels for in-store shopping. Our intelligent operating platform, Sensormatic IQ, makes it easy for retailers to act on data-driven outcomes and generate the predictive and prescriptive insights they need to make informed decisions on inventory to staffing optimizations – two areas that will be important for retail success this back-to-school shopping season.”

Back to Pre-pandemic In-store Shopping Schedule

Seventy four percent of respondents expect their children to return to fully in-person classes this year. As a result, 34% plan to start their back-to-school shopping (both in-stores and online) in July compared to only 17% of consumers in 2020 and 39% of consumers in 2019, marking a shift back to pre-pandemic habits. When asked how they will be shopping for back-to-school this year in addition to the 76% of consumers who plan to shop in-store:

  • 54% said they will shop online
  • 33% will use buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS)
  • 22% will use curbside pickup

Additionally, Sensormatic Solutions Shopper Insights data predicts the busiest weeks of the back-to-school shopping season by region to be:

  • Midwest: Weeks 27-28 (August 1 – 14, 2021)
  • Northeast: Weeks 29-31 (August 15 – September 4, 2021)
  • Southern: Weeks 26-27 (July 25 – August 7, 2021)
  • Western: Weeks 26-28 (July 25 – August 14, 2021)

“In 2020, most communities hadn’t reopened their schools for in-person learning, which impacted retailers from apparel to big box and office supplies,” said Amy Shulman, global head professional services, Sensormatic Solutions. “Trying to understand traffic trends when most schools in 2021 are expected to be open necessitates looking back to the most recent year when that occurred, which in this case is 2019. Doing so not only allows retailers to assess the ever-changing retail traffic environment, but also helps them understand expected shopper patterns, which is critical for staffing and supply chain optimization, such as last-mile delivery.”

Back to Spending on Apparel and School Supplies

When asked how the state of the economy will impact shopping habits, there was a notable year-over-year shift back to pre-pandemic spending:

  • 2021: 39% said their shopping habits will not be impacted and 12% plan to spend more this year compared to last year
  • 2020: 21% said their shopping habits would not be impacted and 9% said they would spend more than the previous year
  • 2019: 51% said their shopping habits would not be impacted and 12% said they would spend more than the previous year

Consumers plan to spend the most on apparel and school supplies this year. Seventy percent of shoppers said they would spend the most on clothing/apparel, followed by shoes (55%), school supplies (53%), backpacks (37%) and electronics (33%). Sixty-one percent of shoppers said they anticipate spending the most on casual clothes (e.g. jeans, graphic t-shirts, etc.), followed by 17% who said athleisure, and 11% who said fitness/sportwear.

Back to Confidence for In-Store Shopping

Consumer confidence about shopping in-store reached new highs in June. Nearly three quarters (73%) of back-to-school shoppers said they were neutral or unconcerned about shopping in-store currently. When asked the same question in spring 2021, 50% of shoppers were neutral or unconcerned about shopping in-store and only 35% of shoppers were neutral or unconcerned in winter 2020.

As confidence increases, there is also a resurgence of consumers who preferred to shop at enclosed malls. Sixteen percent of consumers said they shop at enclosed malls most frequently, compared to 9% in spring 2021. Free standing stores and strip centers remain the most popular format, with 42% of back-to-school shoppers saying they shop here most frequently.

Sensormatic Solutions and its intelligent operating platform for retail, Sensormatic IQ, is a vital component of Johnson Controls OpenBlue technologies and innovations which promotes healthy people, healthy places and healthy planet. Sensormatic Solutions is helping retailers solve complex challenges related to consumer confidence, health and safety as part of its mission.

To learn more about Sensormatic Solutions’ back-to-school predictions, please visit The New Rules of Back to School: 2021's Return to Normal.

Survey Methodology

Sensormatic Solutions collected responses from 1,000 U.S.-based consumers, 18-years and older, via a third-party provider to determine findings of its 2021 U.S. Back-to-School Consumer Sentiment Survey. Responses came from 750 U.S.-based parents of children ages 5-18 and 250 U.S.-based full-time undergrad or graduate students. The survey was conducted between June 14 - June 20, 2021.

About Johnson Controls

At Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) we transform the environments where people live, work, learn and play. As the global leader in smart, healthy and sustainable buildings, our mission is to reimagine the performance of buildings to serve people, places and the planet.

With a history of more than 135 years of innovation, Johnson Controls delivers the blueprint of the future for industries such as healthcare, schools, data centers, airports, stadiums, manufacturing and beyond through its comprehensive digital offering OpenBlue. With a global team of 100,000 experts in more than 150 countries, Johnson Controls offers the world's largest portfolio of building technology, software as well as service solutions with some of the most trusted names in the industry. For more information, visit or follow us @johnsoncontrols on Twitter.

About Sensormatic Solutions

Sensormatic Solutions is the leading global retail solutions portfolio of Johnson Controls powering operational excellence at scale and enabling smart and connected shopper engagement. Our intelligent digital operating platform – Sensormatic IQ – combines the full Sensormatic Solutions portfolio, including unmatched insights into retail inventory, shopper behavior, and loss prevention and liability, and Retailer and third-party solutions with advanced technologies, like AI and Machine Learning. This enables retailers to act on prescriptive, data-driven outcomes and confidently move into the future. Our retail portfolio features the premier Sensormatic, ShopperTrak and TrueVUE brands. Please visit Sensormatic Solutions or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and our YouTube channel.


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