Coronavirus Pandemic Shifts Back-to-School Spending

Elva Mankin

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping parents from hitting the back-to-school sales, but it may be changing what’s on their shopping lists.

Back-to-school spending for children in grades K-12 is expected to hit $28.1 billion — or $529 per student — which is relatively flat from last year, when $27.8 billion was spent, according to the 2020 Back-to-School survey by international accounting and professional services firm Deloitte, released July 8.

However, the uncertainty over whether students will be learning in-person or virtually is driving many parents to spend more on technology upgrades.

Improving the learning experience with technology

As the school season nears, parents have a lot on their mind. Two-thirds of the parents surveyed said they were anxious about sending their children back to school this fall because of the pandemic.

In addition, a majority of parents were not satisfied with their children’s learning experience during the last school year. Only 43% said their children’s education during the pandemic prepared them for the next grade.

Some parents may be hoping that better technology will help their children academically. In fact, spending on technology products — such as computers, smartphones and tablets — is projected to increase 28% over last year. Parents who have technology-related products and services on their shopping lists expect to spend an average of $488 on those items.

On top of that, with their concerns about their children’s education in mind, 51% of parents plan to spend more on virtual learning tools for their children than they’ve spent in the past. For instance, 40% said they would pay for a subscription to a supplementary e-learning platform for their children, and 37% said they would sign their children up for a supplementary online course.

The increase in technology spending matches a wider trend of consumers in general expanding their use of mobile apps during the pandemic.

In order to spend more on technology, some back-to-school shoppers are spending less on other types of supplies. In fact, spending on clothing, accessories and traditional school supplies is expected to drop by 17% from the previous year.

The pandemic has also introduced a new category of back-to-school shopping — personal safety concerns amidst the COVID-19 outbreak are prompting parents to make room in their budgets for personal health products, such as hand sanitizer and wipes.

More back-to-school shopping to take place online

The pandemic isn’t just changing what parents buy — it’s also affecting the way they shop.

Consumers have been looking for ways to minimize contact with others when shopping and handling day-to-day errands. According to the survey, online shopping is expected to account for 37% of back-to-school sales, up from 29% in 2019. At the same time, 43% will do their shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, down from 56% who shopped that way last year.

Consumers also expressed an interest in frequenting retailers that let you “buy online and pick up in-store” (BOPIS). In fact, 26% of back-to-school shoppers said they planned to use BOPIS services more frequently amid the pandemic.

A wider 47% of respondents said they favor retailers with a BOPIS option, and 53% said they prefer to shop with a retailer that gives them the option of buying items online but returning them to the store.

Methodology: Deloitte surveyed 1,200 parents with at least one child in grades K-12 this fall. The survey was conducted from May 29 to June 5.

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