back to school

After a year of hybrid learning, missed graduations, proms and sporting events, Deloitte’s 2021 back-to-school and back-to-college reports reveal that students are greeting a return to campus with open arms — with a prediction for retailers to see back-to-school spending at its highest level across recent years.

The report echoes estimates by Customer Growth Partners that call for a 16 percent year-over-year gain in sales for the period between July and September.

According to Deloitte’s consumer survey, b-t-s spending will reach a collective $32.5 billion for K-12 students, about $612 per student, and back-to-college shoppers will spend $26.7 billion, about $1,459 per student. In part, the company noted, this rise in spending is being caused by consumers spending more money on technology having experienced an acceleration of digital tools during the pandemic.

“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. This includes increased spending on technology for both K-12 and college students, demonstrating a shifting focus on how students learn as well as how parents are shopping for these necessities.”

Notably, the pandemic fueled a 37 percent increase in technology spending for K-12 students and a 17 percent increase for college students. The increase created a new baseline for how and what parents purchase, the authors of the report said.

“Like other industries, higher education was forced into the digital realm during the pandemic, with colleges instituting hybrid formats seemingly overnight, originally planned to rollout in a matter of years,” said Stephen Rogers, executive director of Deloitte Insights Consumer Industry Center, Deloitte LLP. “This acceleration of digital learning spurred an even greater investment in the tech category. The increase in tech spending, combined with stimulus checks, child tax credits and improving consumer sentiment, are providing additional opportunities for retailers this year as consumers have the confidence to up their spend and shop earlier.”

In addition to technology upgrades, consumers told Deloitte they are also picking up clothing purchases. Visits to fast-fashion and thrift stores were revealed to be on the rise with a 61 percent increase in interest for athleisure and a 57 percent increase in interest for fashionable clothing among higher-income households.

Meanwhile, on college campuses parents are showing less anxiety to have students return to school, at just 34 percent compared to 62 percent in 2020. And more than a third of college families say they expect to spend more on college items this year. While spending on traditional college supplies is down 9 percent, dorm and apartment furniture and electronic gadgets are seeing renewed investments, specifically from middle-income families.

At the same time, consumers told Deloitte the shopping behaviors adopted due to safety during the pandemic will continue as they shop for b-t-s. In fact, the level of online spending for b-t-s will remain high at 39 percent, compared to 37 percent in 2020, while in-store shopping will stay flat at 43 percent. Consumers additionally reported they expect the convenience of options like buy online, pick up in-store (or BOPIS) and curbside pick-up, which they will use more frequently for b-t-s shopping.

Further, while a majority of consumers said they plan to use personal computers or smartphones to shop, social media is becoming an integral part of the shopping journey for 41 percent of K-12 parents, an increase from 25 percent in 2020. Among parents using social media for b-t-s shopping, 42 percent say they are visiting retailers’ social media pages to both assess products and get a sense of their personality and purpose.

“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,” Sides said. “Retailers that demonstrate their resiliency during this time will appeal to shoppers and be better positioned to capitalize on growing consumer sentiment.”

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