Catalina sees back-to-school sales in decline during pandemic

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – As the country and individual states and school districts continue to grapple with when and how to re-open schools safely for the 2020-21 academic year, shopper intelligence leader Catalina reports that sales of back-to-school (BTS) supplies at grocery and drugstores declined by 31% nationwide for the four weeks ending Aug. 22, 2020, when compared to the same period in 2019.

Overall, grocery and drugstore sales have continued to be strong across all categories in the U.S., up by 13% compared to the prior year, per Catalina’s Buyer Intelligence Database, which tracks billions of in-store purchases each day. While the number of trips people are making to stores each week continued to be down (by 8%), basket sizes have been up by 22% — a “new normal” that dates back to mid-January, even before widespread concern about the pandemic began to take root.

On a state-by-state basis, BTS sales have dropped in each of the five states that most recently reported the greatest number of COVID-19 cases, including California, Florida, Texas, New York and Georgia.

Among the five states that have reported the fewest cases of COVID-19, Maine and Wyoming have reported higher BTS sales vs. 2019. However, in similarly less impacted Alaska, Montana and Vermont, BTS sales have declined by 42%, 21% and 11% respectively.

GEOGRAPHY $ Spent on School Supplies Year Over Year # of Store Trips for School Supplies $ Spent On School Supplies Per Trip
Across the USA -31% -25% -8%
Highest # of

COVID-19 Cases

California -30% -26% -6%
Florida -30% -31% +3%
Texas -35% -30% -6%
New York -36% -31% -7%
Georgia -22% -25% +4%
Lowest # of

COVID-19 Cases

Montana -21% -16% -6%
Alaska -42% – 31% -17%
Maine +8% +2% +6%
Wyoming +1% -2% +3%
Vermont -11% -10% -0.7%


 “The debates about the best way to approach the 2019-20 academic year are complex as parents, teachers and academic institutions grapple with how best teach our kids safely and effectively,” said Catalina CMO Marta Cyhan. “The sales decline of back-to-school supplies suggests that many have been taking a wait-and-see attitude, even as they explore virtual or smaller group options like starting learning pods or microschools in a teacher’s home with a carefully selected and monitored group of classmates.”

“Overall, our retail and CPG customers continue to appreciate the timeliness of the data and insights we’re able to provide them across 78 major grocery and drug categories during such a tumultuous time,” added Cyhan. “It is helpful in making better informed marketing and supply chain decisions.”

Catalina’s COVID-19 Interactive Map is updated each Monday.


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