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The Majority of Back to School Shoppers Are Buying Supplies for At-Home Schooling

Back to school shopping is still happening—but these stats show it will be very different…

Our recent Retail’s New Reality trend report explored what some of the upcoming shopping seasons could look like, and found that 64% of students and Millennial parents are potential back to school shoppers this year—with 39% of 13-39-year-olds saying that they plan to back to school shop this year, and 25% saying they are not yet sure if they will need to. In 2019, 59% of young consumers told YPulse that they went back to school shopping—so this year could very well be as strong as last, despite uncertainty around what school will actually consist of. That’s potentially great news for retailers.

We shared some of our early data on how young consumers and parents were feeling about back to school, including how many weren’t sure if they would need to back to school shop at all due to COVID-19. But increasingly, it’s looking like back to school shopping will happen—but it’s going to look very different.

Using YPulse’s on-demand research tool PULSE, we surveyed 16-44-year-olds who plan to back to school shop to get real-time insight into what that shopping might look like this year, asking when they plan to shop, how much they plan to spend, and what they plan to buy. We predicted that some back to school shopping could be delayed by families as they wait to figure out what the school year will look like and what they will need. our newest data shows that while nearly a quarter will be shopping later than they usually do, many plan to shop according to their usual schedule:
More than two in five of those who say they will back to school shop this year plan to do that shopping when they usually do. So what does this mean? Our data on 2019 back to school shopping shows the majority start to think about what they will need in July and August, and will have their shopping completed by the end of September.

Interestingly, 33% of back to school shoppers say that they will be doing their shopping earlier than usual or that they have already done it. It’s possible that students and young parents want to be prepared for any situation, and are shopping early to be ready for whatever the fall brings.

With some starting their shopping early, and others delaying, this potentially adds up to a long back to school shopping season for retailers. But how much are back to school shoppers willing to spend? We asked, and found that while many are planning to spend less this year, there are some back to school shoppers who actually plan to spend more than they usually do:

So, the potential bad news is clear with over two and five back to school shoppers predicting that they will spend less than they usually do. But it’s very important to note that a combined 51% say they will spend the same amount or more than usual, with almost a quarter predicting they will spend more. In other words, there is certainly opportunity here, and even a likelihood that spending could match last year’s overall thanks to those who are forecasting that they will increase their back to school shopping spend.

And what they will be buying will look very different as well. When we asked back to school shoppers what kind of supplies they plan to buy, we found the majority are prepping for at home learning this fall:

Almost three in five back to school shoppers say that they plan to buy supplies for at home learning. This is an enormous takeaway for retailers and brands. Back to school shoppers are not just looking for their usual supplies, they likely believe that they will need to be either attending school from home, or managing their children’s remote education. Notably, over half also say that they will be buying supplies for going to school in person, indicating that they either want to be prepared for both scenarios, or are expecting a hybrid model of education where kids are both going into schools, and remote learning depending on the day or week.

When we delved deeper into the kinds of specific supplies they’re planning to buy, traditional items top the list, but a significant amount plan to buy items that would not have been on their lists in previous years:

Over a third of back to school shoppers plan to purchase personal protection items like face masks, antibacterial hand sanitizers and wipes, and gloves as part of their back to school shopping. That’s not too surprising, considering the fears around going back into classrooms. But three in ten tell us that they plan to buy tech for at home learning, while a quarter plan to buy supplies to create a “classroom” at home. Brands who can help parents feel prepared for the fall with items that will allow them to organize and run their own mini-schools at home could win big this year. 

Overall, it is clear that back to school shopping is going to happen this year, but the possibility of remote learning is changing what back to school shopper will buy significantly. There is a good chance that back to school spending will be strong as kids and families by new items for their new education realities, but retailers might need to rethink how they market to parents and students who want to be prepared but aren’t quite sure what’s coming next.