How Will Back-to-School Spending Play Out in 2020?

How Will Back-to-School Spending Play Out in 2020?
The back-to-school shopping season is vital for retailers — especially during the pandemic.

Back-to-school retail spending in 2020 — the year of pandemic — will remain flat compared to last year, according to a report released Tuesday by Deloitte.

That spending will reach $28.1 billion for K-12 students, Deloitte found, or about $529 per student. For college students, spending will reach $25.4 billion, or about $1,345 per student.

Digital products and e-commerce, however, will likely emerge as a bright spot for retailers during the back-to-school shopping season.

“Spending is continuing to shift toward digital products over more traditional items, most notably with a 28% increase in technology spending for K-12 students, now an $8.6 billion market,” Deloitte found. “Parents of both college-age and K-12 students expect to spend more of their budget online this year as they seek out contactless formats such as BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store).”

For spending on K-12 students, the Deloitte report found that:

  • Spending on technology products (including personal computers, smartphones, tablets, wearables) is set to increase 28% over 2019. Consumers planning to purchase these items intend to spend an average of $488 on them.
  • Despite spending on clothing, accessories and traditional school supplies dropping by 17%, it remains the largest portion of back-to-school spending, with K-12 parents planning on spending, on average, $336 on these categories.
  • More than half (51%) of parents plan to increase their spend on virtual learning tools. In fact, 40% of parents plan to subscribe their children to a supplementary e-learning platform.
  • Parents also plan to allocate budget for personal health products, spending an average of $46 per student on supplies like sanitizer and wipes.
  • Children have an even greater influence over purchasing decisions with 69% exerting a moderate-to-high influence over computer and hardware purchases this year, up from 54% last year.

“The back-to-school shopping season traditionally represents a clear transition to fall, but families this year face a period of uncertainty,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader. “With school formats still up in the air for many, the spend is shifting to tech as parents anticipate the possibility of remote learning and the need to supplement students’ education. Retailers that can stay nimble and react quickly to changing needs for education amid the challenges of COVID-19, will likely be the ones that will have an opportunity to appeal shoppers this season.” 

The new Deloitte report also found that “emerging shopping technologies such as voice assistants and cashier-less stores are starting to gain some traction with 6% to 15% of back-to-school shoppers planning to use at least one format.”

As for spending for college students, the report found that:

  • As consumers seek out safe shopping formats, parents expect to spend more of their back-to-college budget online — 34% in 2020 versus 28% last year.
  • Both price (85%) and convenience (85%) remain the main drivers for purchase decisions, although price sensitivity is decreasing (down from 91% in 2019) as shoppers pay more during the pandemic for brands they trust.
  • Mass merchant stores remain dominant, with 75% of shoppers citing plans to shop for their price, product and convenience, and COVID-19 safety precautions.
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