May 18, 2021
7 min read

How Retailers Can Prepare Now for the 2021 Back-to-School Shopping Season

How Retailers Can Prepare Now for the 2021 Back-to-School Shopping Season

The back-to-school shopping season is expected to look different again this year.  

Like last year, buyers’ needs will be impacted by whether learning takes place in person. Presently, school administrators are expecting a mix of in-person and remote instruction during the upcoming fall semester.  

In addition, consumer behavior is continuing to evolve. Shoppers are slowly returning to stores as vaccines rise. And, at the same time, many new shopping behaviors are expected to stick, such as curbside pickup and an increased use of ecommerce. 

Retail sales are also beginning to increase after experiencing a 9.8% surge in March compared to a 3% drop the month before. This increase is the largest since May 2020, when stores reopened after pandemic closures. It was also dramatically larger than the 5.5% Wall Street analysts expected. This growing trend signals good news for retailers during this year’s back-to-school shopping season. 

What will school look like in fall 2021? 

As mentioned previously, 69% of administrators are implementing a combination of in-person and remote schooling, as hybrid learning models allow families a choice in schooling and much-needed flexibility. 

To support this model, educators plan to work towards ensuring all students have the technology they need to complete schooling at home

Either way, prevention measures will likely still be necessary as many children remain unvaccinated. Currently, the CDC recommends a range of mitigation strategies including mandatory masks, good ventilation, regular handwashing and continued social distancing. 

What shopping trends are expected this year? 

Recent research from NRF hints at new shopping methods that are expected to stick. For example, 65% of consumers pay for a delivery shipping service, with a quarter paying for more than one. In addition, seventy percent of consumers have used BOPIS and found it improved their shopping experience. 

As for online shopping, consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up 44% from $598.02 billion in 2019, according to Digital Commerce 360. 

What can the 2020 back-to-school season tell us? 

Since the upcoming school season is expected to be a mix of in-person and remote learning, back-to-school shopping habits from last year can give us insight into what to expect this year. 

Growing children need new clothes whether they are at school or at home; last year, 47% of consumers surveyed said they were spending more on clothing, and 59% said higher spending would come from school supplies like pencils and notebooks, according to NRF

For parents expecting students to be at home, 72% of respondents planned to buy items to help with remote learning, such as computers, home furnishings and other supplies. Thirty-six percent are expected to buy laptops, 22% speakers/headphones, 21% tech accessories and 17% printers.  

How can I be prepared to meet back-to-school needs? 

In 2021, the best plan is to be prepared for anything to happen.  

We’ll likely see shopper behavior continue to evolve, with consumers using a variety of purchasing methods. And with a mixture of in-person and online learning expected, what consumers are buying is likely to be diverse as well. 

To learn more about how to prepare your stores for a flux of in-store shopping, check out our recent blog that provides tips on contactless POS, electronic receipts and mobile tools. 

If you’re looking to learn more about how to personalize the online shopping experience, check out this post on our blog