The back-to-school (BTS) season is a critically important selling period—and an opportunity for retailers to reconnect with shoppers before entering the holiday season. COVID has written a new script for schools and businesses in 2021. Consumers have adjusted in significant ways during the crisis since early 2020. Last year, we experienced extensive school closures and education taking a dramatic turn to ‘Zoom’ learning, along with businesses shifting to a work-from-home model that in many cases has become the new norm. Schools are set to reopen in 2021, but the rise in COVID cases in many parts of the country could impact how consumers shop for BTS and back-to-office (BTO).
BTS and BTO will bleed together this year since most offices won’t open until after Labor Day. This should have a significant impact on total spending. Based on an annual survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF), consumers will spend record amounts as students—including college level—return to in-person learning. The NRF predicts back-to-school spending to reach a record high of $37.1 billion, compared to $33.9 billion last year. Mastercard likewise expects back-to-school spending to increase by 5.5% over 2020 and 6.7% over 2019.
As we look to the coming weeks entering fall, it will be worth watching how the recent rise in COVID cases will change consumer spending. The environment is fluid, and retailers will need to know their shoppers’ preferences when it comes to what they want to buy and, equally important, HOW they want to shop.