Coming Down the Pike: Peak Season and Plenty of Work to do to get Back to School

Plenty more boxes to come

LONG BEACH, July 26 – Back-to-school shopping is underway, effectively marking the start of Peak Season, normally a period of high imports for the nation, and that means more work for the trucking industry.

“Peak season is a key time for all elements of the supply chain, including every segment of the trucking industry, whether drayage, full truckload, less than truckload, or over the road,” said Weston LaBar, Head of Strategy for Cargomatic. 

Matthew Shay, President and CEO of the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest organization of retail merchants, underlined back-to-school as “among the most significant shopping events for consumers and retailers alike, second only to the winter holiday season.”

A priority for families

He stressed it as a priority for families who consider back-to-school and -college items as an “essential category” and he said they are taking “whatever steps they can” in order to purchase what is needed for the upcoming school year. 

The NRF reported that total back-to-school spending is expected to match 2021’s record high of $37bn. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school items, approximately $15 more than last year. 

“We are currently heading into the back-to-school season on the back of 25 straight months of year-over-year increases in retail sales,” said NRF VP of Research Mark Mathews, adding that “retail sales grew 7% in 2020 14% in 2021 and currently we’re 7% above 2021 levels.”

Back to school buying has already begun, according to Katherine Cullen, NRF Senior Director for Industry and Consumer Insights, with about 12% of buyers receiving their list of school needs by early July. 

Plenty more buying to come

But she said the remaining 88% are not expecting that information until the end of the month which means that “we are expecting to see that shopping kind of continue not just through July, but into August.”

That translates into the need for agility on the part of retailers, said Phil Rist, Executive Vice President of Strategy for Prosper Insights and Analytics, which provides consumer intent data serving the financial services, marketing technology, and retail industries.

“We are seeing real shifts in the way people are shopping and spending on back-to-class items since before the pandemic. As a result, retailers are also shifting by bringing in inventory earlier and extending back-to-class offerings,” Rist said.

That has already been noted at the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest gateway where, according to Executive Director Gene Seroka, “we’re already beginning to handle back-to-school, fall fashion and year-end holiday goods.” 

Online shopping takes priority

Compared with their pre-pandemic habits, back-to-school and college shoppers plan to concentrate their shopping rather than spreading it out across multiple destinations, according to an annual survey conducted by the NRF and Prosper Insights and Analytics. 

It said the top five back-to-school shopping destinations are online (50%), department stores (45%), discount retailers (40%), clothing stores (37%) and electronics stores (28%). 

The survey also noted that the top back-to-college shopping destinations are online (43%), followed by department stores (36%), discount stores (29%), office supply stores (27%) and college bookstores (26%). 

For the supply chain that means work and plenty of it, with the nation’s distribution centers and the trucks that serve them well employed for months to come.