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How Inflation is Impacting Back To School Shopping for Young Consumers

Back to school season is here, but inflation will definitely be impacting Gen Z and Millennial shoppers…


  • More Gen Z and Millennials plan to back to school shop than last year, but the majority are making choices with inflation in mind
  • Plans for in-person only learning are changing their shopping lists and budgets
  • With budgets in mind, more young consumers are choosing the dollar store, and fewer are choosing department stores for BTS shopping

Back to school shopping season has begun, and while it’s always an expensive time of year, recent inflation issues are on Gen Z and Millennials’ minds. But it’s not the only issue impacting the retail season: As remote and hybrid learning are dwindling, more young consumers are planning to be BTS shopping this year. YPulse’s Back To School Shopping report shows that 59% of young people are going to be spending this season (up from 53% last year). But how, and where, they’re doing it may look different as their budgets shift.

A Deloitte survey found that BTS shopping for K-12 students is expected to go up 8% from last year, amounting in a total of $34.4 billion for the season. Because of inflation, the products young consumers are used to buying every year are more expensive, and now, they’ll be faced with the decision of spending more or trading brands to save. We asked 13-39-year-olds exactly how they’ll be back to school shopping this year, and what will be impacting their choices. These three stats show their low-price-mindset for 2022:

The vast majority of young BTS shoppers agree that inflation is impacting their shopping choices this year. We know from our Mass Merch Mentality report that these gens are budget shoppers as it is, and price is their top factor when choosing where to shop, so rising prices are driving their decisions in a big way. This year, 62% of young consumers agree they have a strict budget for BTS shopping, compared to 56% who said the same last year.

Some stores are conscious of the financial strain this BTS season is looking to cause, and have made promises to ease their shoppers’ stress. Old Navy announced a price freeze on kids’ fashion essentials in April, and extended the deal to all denim through the end of September. This is important to draw in shoppers like Millennial parents, as only 14% tell YPulse they plan to buy back to school items at specialty retail stores. Other stores, like Walmart, are making significant markdowns as their only choice to drive sales of “an influx in inventory, which the brand says is due to inflation-related cutbacks from its shoppers.” That being said, BTS shoppers tell YPulse mass merchandise retailers like Walmart and Target are the top locations where they’ll be shopping this year. 

Despite the rising prices, 28% of BTS shoppers say they’re planning to spend less than they usually do, and there’s an array of reasons how. For one, the majority of young consumers also agree they reuse as many things as they can from last school year, rather than buy new items. And, their shopping list has changed slightly from last year—the majority of BTS shoppers are only preparing for in-person learning, as opposed to both at-home and in-person last year. Where last BTS season they were still concerned about having the appropriate, costly electronics at home to manage at-home learning, young consumers tell YPulse their estimated spending for electronics has decreased from $234.44 to $164.40. 

For Millennial parents, while their planned budgets are smaller, higher prices may end up in their cart anyway. The majority (71%) of parents say that they regularly buy whatever back to school items are on the schools’ list, whatever the cost. And, fulfilling their kids’ wishes does play a factor, as 28% say recommendations / requests from their children will be impacting their shopping choices, which is their biggest influence for shopping for their kids in general. In order to balance their budget with their needs, where they’re going BTS shopping has shifted in a few ways since last year…

With prices on their mind, 41% of BTS shoppers tell YPulse they’re planning to make purchases at the dollar store this year, a slight increase from last year. Shopping at the dollar store has become, dare we say, trendy; on TikTok, where young consumers are getting style inspo and product recommendations, #DollarStoreFind currently has 23.3M views, all showing the best items to buy for the lowest price. And off social media, the dollar store is being recommended on forums like BuzzFeed’s back to school shopping advice from parents, teachers, and students. Millennial parents appear to be taking these recommendations, as 44% say they plan on buying from the dollar store this year, as compared to 38% last year. 

The dollar store is also a location they’re likely to visit in-person, which our Shopping and Retail report shows is now young consumers’ preferred method of shopping, as opposed to the pandemic-mandated online shopping of the last few years. Still, more than one third of young consumers plan to shop equally in-person and online for back to school, and 53% say they’ll be making BTS purchases at online retailers like Amazon and eBay.

This uptick in popularity for super-discount items comes alongside a drop in shopping at department stores, where only 27% of young BTS shoppers say they’ll be making purchases this season, as opposed to 37% last year. Data from our Mass Merch Mentality report shows that prices at department stores are what deters young consumers. This price point could lead to waning business more than just department stores in the future, as 52% are also considering any recognizable brand name item a luxury, not just historically high-end brands. And, regardless of this changing definition of expensive, 48% of Millennial parents say that if price were not a factor, they would still choose to shop at big box retailers, because that’s where they like to shop.

YPulse paid users can access the full Back to School Shopping report here.

Don’t have a YPulse paid account? Find out more here.