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BTS Report Card: Which Retailers Were Not Cool For School?

High school and college students’ BTS shopping is impacting major retailers, and we did our homework to see how their top brands benefitted, while others suffered losses at the hands of young consumers.

The fickle world of Millennial and teen fashion has kept major clothing brands on their toes, and back-to-school season might be the ultimate test for retailers’ ability to stay cool with young consumers. BTS is shifting, with stores battling to contend with digital competition, busier parents, and increasingly picky students—and while some are benefitting from the changes, others are suffering losses thanks to young consumers’ changing back-to-school preferences. 

Our yearly back-to-school shopping survey revealed that middle and high school student planned to spend an average of $350 and college students planned to spend an average of $471, and 81% of high schoolers and 96% of college students decide or help to decide the stores they shop in for BTS. But what brands benefitted from their spending? We looked at the top stores that students shopped at, and retailers’ Q3 2015 financial earnings and losses and found that their shopping preferences almost certainly impacted brands this season—for better and for worse.

Here are the top 25 stores and sites they said they visited for back-to-school clothing, shoes, and accessories:

The results revealed Target was their top clothing retail destination with 37% saying they visited the chain, Walmart came second with 34% and Amazon, with its rising dominance in the apparel industry, 31%. A related note: this year, 29% of college students told us they would be doing all of their BTS shopping online.

Compared to 2014, some retailers made gains with young consumers, while others lost momentum. Old Navy, who has reworked their back-to-school marketing strategy from targeting moms to targeting the younger audience with digital and social video ads, experienced a jump from a #7 ranking in our 2014 back-to-school survey to now #5. Several larger retailers, who continually rely on inexpensive deals for multiple items, went down in the rankings since 2014: J.C. Penney fell from #6 to #8, Macy’s from #8 to #10, and Sears dropped a whopping 9 spots from #14 to #23.

After reviewing reported third quarter financials for each brand, we found that each of the top five brands that students shopped at for back-to-school clothing items surpassed their past year’s sales in 2015, with Amazon making the biggest increase of $4.8 billion: 

A closer look at financial results on our top 25 brands further reveals Millennials’ ever-changing attitudes towards fashion, and in many cases a correlation between brands’ position on Millennials BTS shopping destination list and their Q3 results (those highlighted in yellow saw sales decrease when comparing Q3 2014 and Q3 2015): 

Gap, who hasn’t been able to keep up with trendsetter brands, saw a decrease in sales of $69 million. American Eagle on the other hand has kept up with the digital era and innovated their brand with an omni-channel approach that has proven successful—they earned an increase of $65 million in net sales. They’ve also gone up in our rankings, moving from the #10 retailer in 2014 to #7 this year. But once-mighty teen brands are feeling the effects of the competition:  Abercombie & Fitch’s and Aeropostale both saw drops in sales, and no major increase in their position on students’ shopping lists.