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Visitor numbers show growing importance of back to school to retail

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Back to school seems to be confirmed as a key date on the high street by footfall figures out this week.

Research from Mintel last month suggested that the annual kit-out for students ahead of new school and university terms had become the third largest seasonal shopping event in the UK, behind Black Friday and Christmas. Together, it suggested, parents spend almost £1bn a year on the event.

This week, as the new school term started, Shoppertrak has released figures that appear to confirm that rise. It found that footfall peaked mid-week last week and over the weekend. On Tuesday August 28 – after the August bank holiday – visitor numbers to the high street were 14.5% up compared to the daily average. Over the weekend, Saturday footfall was up by 1.44% and Sunday by 6.52%, up from 2.17% a year earlier.

Steve Richardson, UK and MEA director at ShopperTrak, said: “There’s little doubt Back to School is increasingly becoming a key seasonal event for retailers and is growing in popularity across category – what once was confined to stationery and apparel now sees promotional activity around supplementary products, such as tech including smartphones and electricals, which may explain its rise to the third largest seasonal event of the retail calendar.

“This year, with schools going back shortly after the August Bank Holiday, and many people taking time off in and around the long weekend, it left limited time for shoppers to pick up back to school items. This means we’ve seen a double spike in footfall, with a peak on the Tuesday during the last week of the school holidays and again in the last weekend before terms starts.”

The Mintel research put a £915m price tag on the cost of sending children back to a new academic year, with £436m spent on school uniform and shoes alone. The average individual spend came to £273, including goods from uniforms to stationery. 

One reason for it being a particularly significant date for the high street might be because children often have their feet measured for new shoes and try on new uniform, making this an errand best achieved in person.

Image: InternetRetailing Media

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