Back-to-School shopping lists shift amid COVID-19 pandemic

REUTERS/Mike Blake


Just like the upcoming school year, annual back-to-school shopping is going to look quite different during the coronavirus pandemic.

As schools work out their reopening plans for the fall, parents are working out their back-to-school shopping lists. And some brand new binders and backpacks are not making the cut.

“I do not plan to buy any new things,” said Avital Madjar of Woodmere, Long Island, of purchasing new supplies for her elementary, high school, and college-aged children.

On a national scale, the accounting firm Deloitte projects that $28.1 billion will be spent on back-to-school items this year, which is roughly consistent with that of 2019. The consultancy, however, estimates that this is because a stronger spending on electronic supplies will neutralize the steep decline in spending on traditional back-to-school items such as clothing and notebooks.

But spending varies regionally and so does schools reopening. A concrete plan — whether that’s entirely remote, in-person, or a combination of the two — could greatly reassure parents of what they should be buying in preparation of the new unprecedented school year. On the other hand, time has proven that all plans made during the age of the coronavirus should indeed be taken with a grain of salt.

It all comes down to uncertainty.

Once many adults started working from home in the spring, companies such as Wayfair Inc. and West Elm parent Williams-Sonoma Inc. indicated that the sales for home office furniture spiked. Might there be a similar jump in the demand for miniature desks and bean bag chairs for those students sticking out remote learning?

Similarly, back-to-college shopping is just as up in the air. Some universities plan to work entirely remotely, some have committed to welcoming students back to campus, and some still don’t know. And who’s to say students who move into their dorms at the end of August won’t be sent home because of a campus coronavirus crisis by October? Before students and their parents can worry about buying dorm decor, they need to feel confident they’ll get the time to enjoy it. And,

Deloitte estimates that parents of college students will spend around $25.4 billion this year on school items, while parents with children in elementary, middle, or high school will spend $28.1 billion. The firm found that online-only shopping options were appealing to 58 percent of parents of college students as well as 44 percent of parents of kids in K-12 grades.

A bulk of all school supply shopping is expected to take place online, either via delivery or curbside pickup, as consumers are still wary of entering public spaces. Gap Inc. has reported that its e-commerce sales increased more than 100 percent from the previous year in the month of May, and Macy’s Inc. shared an online sale growth of 80 percent during the same period. As physical retailers continue to open up, this growth will likely settle but it does suggest that major back-to-school retailers will need to adapt their merchandising strategy for a new shopping climate.

Once school reopening plans are more conclusive, parents will make their final decisions about their children’s plans for the fall and what supplies their children may need.

“I want the kids to go back because I think being isolated from peers is damaging, emotionally and intellectually,” said Madjar. “That being said, I am nervous about everyone’s health, the death rate, and getting our economy back on track. That is all directly tied to schools reopening.”

This story first appeared one longislandpress.com.

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