COVID-19 has elevated parent’s anxieties around health and finance, and led them to question the quality of education that students received this spring. Concerns that students have fallen behind is evident, with only one-half of K-12 parents satisfied with the education provided, and 25% citing that their children are not prepared for the next grade. This trend is similar to what we found in the Back-to-College survey, as just more than half (52%) of parents noted they were satisfied with the education college students received this spring, and many now contemplating the value of online learning at the price of an on-campus experience. Moreover, 66% of K-12 parents and 62% of college-age parents are anxious about sending their kids back-to-school because of the pandemic. This is further compounded by financial concerns, with 40% of parents worried about making upcoming college-related payments.
Back-to-school spending shifts to technology
Back-to-school spending is expected to reach $28.1 billion, averaging $529 per student in households buying clothing, supplies, computers and electronics for children in grades K to 12. While spending is relatively flat from 2019, there is increased emphasis on technology-based learning tools, including resources to supplement the standard K-12 program.
- 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.
Health and safety concerns drive consumers to move shopping activity online
With health concerns rising, more back-to-school purchases will occur online (37%, up from 29% in 2019), gaining share from in-store purchases (43%). These are more likely to involve a personal computer due to greater at-home computer use as compared to smartphones, which were a driver of shopping activity last year. At the same time, 20% of respondents remain undecided on the format for spending, which presents a $5.5 billion untapped opportunity for retailers this season.
- Consumers plan to spend $10.4 billion online this back-to-school season, up from $8.1 billion last year.
- The use of personal computers for back-to-school shopping is rising to almost two-thirds of back-to-school shoppers (64%) saying they will use a personal computer for shopping versus 46% who will use a smartphone.
- Further, emerging shopping technologies such as voice assistants and cashier-less stores are starting to gain some traction with 6%-15% of back-to-school shoppers planning to use at least one format.
- Despite in-store spending projected to decline from $15.7 billion last year to $12.2 billion this year, the physical store remains critical with 43% of total spending projected to take place in-store. In fact, as consumers shift to contactless formats, 26% of shoppers plan to use BOPIS more frequently.
- As with years past, mass merchants are the preferred shopping location, for back-to-school (81%) shopping, but they may lose some share this year as more people expect to shop closer to home because of the pandemic.
- When selecting where to shop, price (82%) and convenience (80%) remain the most important criteria for back-to-school shoppers, but safety (59%) is an important consideration for parents this year.
- Despite the uncertainty on when and how schools will open, about 40% of respondents intend to start their school shopping four to six weeks before school begins, with late July and early August being the busiest — accounting for $16.2 billion in seasonal spending.
Back-to-college parents weigh difficult decisions
College families are faced with uncertainty as they weigh the value of education that students are receiving during the COVID-19 era, especially as many colleges and universities are still determining how school will reopen in the fall. Faced with concerns over their family’s health, finances and the unknowns of campus life, parents of college-age children still plan to maintain spending in anticipation of a return to campus, and will spend $25.4 billion, or approximately $1,345 per student.
- Twenty-eight percent of parents may shift plans and have their students join online only institutions this fall; 29% may look to change plans and have their child live at home.
- Lower income families have additional stresses, as 50% are concerned with making upcoming payments, compared with 30% of families overall.
- 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.
College students across the country are ready to return to campus, but continued health, safety and financial concerns are weighing on families. As such, parents plan to give their children as normal a college experience as possible with consistent spending for electronics, household products, clothing and traditional supplies. As parents adapt to the new realities of the pandemic, online shopping is poised to make up a greater percentage of back-to-college purchases, with convenience and safety being more important components of this year’s shopping experience.