What will retail’s back-to-school season look like this year?
The prospects for back-to-school — retail’s second largest sales event annually — have been rendered obscure due to COVID-19 as the selling season greatly depends on how kids will begin their new school years.
According to Deloitte’s annual back-to-school surveys, 66 percent of parents of K-12 and 62 percent of parents of college age students are anxious about sending their kids back because of the pandemic.
The anxiety over the availability and safety of in-person education is seen in other polling:
- Parents commissioned by Varsity Tutors found 43 percent do not believe their children will attend in-person classes this fall and 48 percent may not send their children even if school is open;
- Teachers from the American Federation of Teachers asking how schools should reopen found that, among K-12 school educators, 42 percent preferred a hybrid model, 29 percent favored continuing distance learning and 21 percent chose in-person instruction.
Parents are also concerned about their kids falling behind. Only 56 percent of parents of K-12 and 52 percent of parents of college age students were satisfied with the education their kids received this spring, according to Deloitte’s findings. Finally, financial concerns loom larger as 40 percent of parents worried about making upcoming college-related payments.
Regardless, Deloitte’s survey predicted basically flat back-to-school spending for K-12 grades and a slight decline for college.
Clearer predictions from Deloitte were that online spending for back-to-school items will sharply increase as contactless purchasing methods retain their appeal. At the K-12 level, spending on technology products, driven by computers, is set to climb 28 percent as parents anticipate the possibility of remote learning and the need to supplement students’ education. Virtual learning tools as well as sanitizer and wipes are also expected to be bigger parts of back-to-school budgets.
Back-to-school spending over the last decade has been pushed closer to school’s start as kids wait to see what’s trending and parents wait for deeper savings, but last-minute adjustments and cancellation possibilities are expected to further delay back-to-school purchases this year.
Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors, told CNBC, “I think parents are just not going to open their wallets until they know.”
- Deloitte: COVID-19 Charts Uncertain Course for Back-to-School, Back-to-College Season – Deloitte/PRNewswire
- 2020 Deloitte back-to-school survey – Deloitte
- 2020 Deloitte back-to-college survey – Deloitte
- Back to School Survey Shows 47 percent of Parents Considering Dropping School, Going to Homeschooling – Varsity Tutors/Business Wire
- Three Crises and an Election: The Outlook of AFT Members – American Federation of Teachers
- Here’s How Back-to-School Shopping Will Change in the Year of the Pandemic – Footwear News
- ‘The anxiety is so high’: Going back to school won’t look the same this year. Here’s what it means for retail – CNBC
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What adjustments to inventories, marketing and operations may be required to best manage the uncertainty around this year’s back-to-school selling season? What are some certainties versus unknowns in how the selling season will play out?