Back-to-school looks different this year.
Jugs of hand sanitizer are stocked next to the college-ruled notebooks in the school supply section. Teachers are racing to prepare virtual-friendly lesson plans alongside their regular ones. And students of all ages, from kindergarteners to college seniors, are getting ready to approach learning in a different way—and with different tools.
In the U.S., there’s no one way that schools are opening. Some school districts have already confirmed they’ll be going fully virtual for the fall, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Nashville, and Atlanta. Others are planning to open, though only two of the country’s 10 largest school districts meet epidemiologists’ agreed-upon goal of having daily infection rates of less than 5%. As each state finalizes its fall plans, one thing is clear: remote learning will play a major role in kids going back to school this fall.
From a retail perspective, that means unprecedented changes in back-to-school shopping habits. Here’s what we anticipate seeing in the sector.
Parents and school districts alike will spend more money
Colored pencils and graph paper won’t cut it this year. To enable kids to connect and learn from home, technology that was formerly a nice-to-have is now necessary.
In many cases, school districts themselves will be the buyers. California’s Department of Education plans to buy 300,000 wifi hotspots, for instance, in order to enable students to connect from home.
But in families with the extra income, parents are planning to supplement their home setup to better facilitate learning, with 40% of parents planning to buy less-traditional supplies like technology and 51% planning to increase spending on virtual learning tools to the tune of over $500 per household (per Deloitte’s July back-to-school survey). The National Retail Federation found the top three largest parent expenditures to be computers (with 72% planning to buy), laptops (36%), and accessories like speakers and headphones (22%).
16 states are holding back-to-school “tax holidays” to help reduce the cost of school supplies. During the tax holiday period, shoppers are exempt from paying local and sometimes state taxes on items like notebooks and laptop computers.
Software spending will see a spike, especially when there’s no one dominant product
It shouldn’t surprise you that Zoom saw 78% growth last quarter. The video chat software has very much cornered the market on all the pandemic-era communicating we’re doing. It’s likely to continue to perform well as schools go virtual, along with competitors like Google Hangouts and WebEx.
Other software likely to see spikes in sales include classroom management tools like Google Classroom and Top Hat that help teachers create and execute lesson plans and collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams that allow educators and administrators to connect and plan together.
Hardware sales will go up—and up and up
In 2017, 80% of American households owned a desktop or laptop computer—and the median number of such devices per household was one.
With parents and kids all working and studying from home, equipment needs have expanded significantly, and sales are following.
A Verge report found that even with issues in the supply chain leading to delayed order fulfillment, retailers are still seeing increased traffic to laptop product pages of 100-130% and sales spikes of up to 40% higher than usual.
Specific growth areas include:
- Laptops and netbooks to provide access, especially when it comes to lower-priced models like Chromebooks (which some school districts are buying in the thousands)
- Wifi hotspots to support increased streaming and video needs
- Tablets and smartphones, particularly wifi-enabled ones that can serve as a hotspot if needed (Miami-Dade distributed tens of thousands of such phones to help track when students were logging in)
Accessories and furniture sales likely to increase, too
Other remote-learning-friendly tech likely to see spikes in sales include noise-cancelling headphones, webcams, e-readers, and external hard drives.
Furniture makers—including and especially those who offer desks and desk chairs, like Wayfair—have already seen major spikes in sales, and a Bloomberg report on the industry expects the market to sustain higher sales even after the virus fades.
After all, remote learning is hard enough. Logging into science class from an actual desk and not a cramped corner of the couch seems like a pretty good idea.
Online learning is here for a while
With families and school districts investing major money in getting students equipped to learn in a remote environment, protecting those products with an extended warranty plan is a good idea. Retailers who offer product production are giving customers peace of mind and helping them to confidently use the products they need—a welcome gift always, and especially so during a pandemic.