Canadians to spend less on Back-to-School in August 2020


Back-to-school buying patterns are changing; remote learning, introduced when regions across the country discontinued in-person classes, spurred purchases earlier in the year to accommodate new needs.

Retail Council of Canada
Retail Council of Canada

TORONTO,¬†Aug. 24, 2020¬†/CNW/ – According to¬†Retail Council of¬†Canada‘s (RCC) just released¬†Back-to-School Shopping Survey¬†conducted by¬†Leger¬†between¬†August 7 to 9, 2020, overall, Canadians will be doing less back-to-school shopping in 2020 than they did during the same period in 2019.

The average anticipated spend on back-to-school items in 2020 is $727 versus $919 in 2019.  Apparel and sporting goods show the largest decrease in spending across all regions except for Quebec, where consumers are purchasing more school supplies and sporting goods than other regions of the country.

With remote learning introduced in most parts of the country throughout the pandemic (as early as April 2020), many of the purchases that would have been made during the traditional back-to-school shopping period were made earlier in the year.  This pattern is especially evident in categories such as furniture, electronics, school supplies, books and related items.

A few other takeaways of interest include:

  • The majority of Canadians say health and safety protocols are having more of an influence on their decisions on where to purchase back-to-school items this year.

  • Back-to-school shoppers are buying more items online this year versus last year.

“The results of this year’s back-to-school spending survey are not surprising,” said¬†Diane J. Brisebois, President and CEO, Retail Council of¬†Canada. “With many regions of the country still struggling with in-person back-to-school guidelines, many parents and students are still unsure of what back-to-school will look like in the fall.¬† We anticipate “back-to-school” spending this year will continue to be more spread out throughout the year and follow Canadians’ confidence levels in a return to the “new-normal” that COVID-19 is forcing us all to accommodate.”


  • The average anticipated spend on back-to-school items in 2020 is¬†$727¬†versus¬†$919¬†in 2019.
    • 41% of Canadians shopped for back-to-school in 2019 versus 37% in 2020.

  • Back-to-school shoppers are also anticipating spending less money on school related expenses during the month of¬†August 2020¬†vs last year yet much more on health-related products.
    • Consumers spent an average of¬†$28¬†on health-related products in 2019 compared to an expected spend of¬†$49¬†in 2020.

  • When asked, in another recent¬†Leger poll, if Canadians were worried about children going back to school at the end of the summer, Quebecers were less worried at 56% versus the rest of Canadians at 64%. When asked if Canadians were worried about contracting the disease, 61% of Canadians noted being worried while 52% of Quebecers indicated being worried about contracting COVID-19.
    • This may explain why Quebecers are spending more on average than the rest of¬†Canada¬†on back-to-school items and why Quebecers are also shopping more in physical stores.

  • The percentage of shoppers who had or were planning to spend on apparel/footwear for back-to- school dropped from 78% in 2019 to 69% in 2020.

  • About half of Canadians say that they have been influenced by free shipping and the ability to buy online and/or pick-up in-store which explains the continued growth of e-commerce.

  • Although in-store remains the more popular method to shop for back-to-school items, more Canadians are turning to online shopping for back-to-school related purchases compared to 2019.

Download charts and a copy of the full RCC Back-to-School Shopping Survey here.

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