Parents to Spend More This Back-to-School Season, Survey Finds

New Deloitte report spotlights evolving consumer preferences and opportunities for retailers
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Parents to Spend More This Back-to-School Season, Survey Finds
New surveys of school parents by Deloitte confirm shifting shopping habits in the wake of the pandemic.

Back-to-school is back, according to Deloitte. Following a largely virtual 2020-21 school year, back-to-school spending is expected to reach $32.5 billion for K-12 students and $26.7 billion for college students, the consulting firm projects.

While a return to total normalcy varies by location and the still-fluid COVID-19 situation, the upcoming academic season is shaping up to be much better for retailers and CPGs. According to the 2021 Deloitte Back-to School Survey and 2021 Deloitte Back-to-College Survey, 55% of K-12 parents and 46% of college parents are more confident about the economy. Approximately three in four (78% of K-12 parents and 75% of college parents) say that their household financial situation is similar to or better than it was last year.

While parents (and older students) are ready to spend, the pandemic has influenced their current buying habits and preferences, the surveys found. For one thing, the school shopping season is starting earlier, given out-of-stock issues that many consumers contended with over the past year and a half.

In addition, the acceleration of pandemic-era digital learning and buying will spur more technology spending and online purchasing. More than a third of consumers plan to leverage services like curbside pickup and buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) as they stock up on supplies and apparel heading into a new school year. Deloitte predicts that spending on technology products will increase 37% compared to 2020.

"As Americans anticipate a more traditional return to the back-to-school season, the good news is that parents are ready to spend more and earlier to ensure their children have what they need to be successful,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader. “We've entered a new era of schooling where traditional back-to-school supplies are fading in favor of tech, while consumers expect certain conveniences and competitive prices. Retailers that demonstrate their resiliency during this time will appeal to shoppers and be better positioned to capitalize on growing consumer sentiment."

As grocers launch back-to-school promotions and merchandising efforts, they can also keep in mind that shoppers gearing up for school lunches and traditional supplies like pencils and paper are increasingly influenced by social media. The Deloitte survey found that social media is an important part of the shopping journey for 41% of K-12 parents, up 25% from 2020. About 42% of social media users visit retailers’ social media pages to assess products and to get a sense of their “personality and purpose” up from 30% last year.

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