How Covid-19 Has Changed Back-to-School Shopping Permanently

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has changed many aspects of the school experience. This includes back-to-school shopping.

Some parents love back-to-school shopping. Some hate it. But all are familiar with the practice. You show up to a big box store like Office Depot, Target, or Walmart. Perhaps you already have your child’s supply list in hand. Or perhaps you start by looking for a colorful display of school supply lists near the store entrance. Either way, you arm yourself with the lengthy list of supplies needed and begin your hunt. Sometimes you’re able to accomplish this at one store. Sometimes you have to trek to multiple stores to find what you need.

Covid-19 has changed this experience, as it has so many others. From the adoption of online shopping to the changing list of supply needs, 2021 will not look the same as years past.


Child-on-tabletCosts have gone up. The culprit? Technology

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF),back-to-school spending showed an increase of around 26% for families of K-12 students in 2020. In a survey executed by the NRF, families anticipated spending an average of $274 on electronics alone. This comes as no surprise. With remote and hybrid learning, families have had to improve their at-home technology solutions to ensure access to learning.

While it might be easy to assume that technology purchased in 2020 will alleviate the need for technology in 2021, that is – by and large – a misconception. Parents who chose more affordable or second-hand optionsin 2020, expecting the remote learning situation to be temporary, are now faced with failing and old technology. Those who invested in high quality products may also find themselves in a situation where the technology wasn’t quite durable enough to endure the energy of youth. But beyond replacing technology, parents will likely find themselves having to purchase new tools and products based on the requirements of an evolving classroom.

Another reason costs have gone up for some families is because of bulk purchases through suppliers like Amazon. While Amazon has been known to provide a comparable (or in some cases, more affordable) option in many product categories, that is not the case for education. The modern school supply list calls for very specific needs: one red folder, two blue notebooks, one 12-pack of large, washable markers, etc. Amazon specializes in bulk purchases, and parents have found it challenging to get only one or two items for an affordable price.


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The Pandemic Has Accelerated Online Shopping for School Supplies

Back-to-school shopping at big box stores like Office Depot, Walmart, and Target comes with it’s own set of challenges. As with many aspects of in-store shopping since the pandemic started, retailers have had to find ways to create a sanitary school supply shopping experience. Despite efforts, many parents have opted for online shopping to minimize in-person contact.

Some of the big-box stores have responded to this change in consumer behavior by offering “ready-built” generic school supply kits. While this addresses a core need of parents, many options don’t offer the level of customization necessitated by the school supply lists.


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Hybrid and Remote Learning has Changed the Supply List

When it comes to school supply lists, things look different in a post-pandemic world. There are the obvious additions: hand sanitizer, masks, cleaning wipes. But beyond the obvious, a question many parents are asking is: “do I really need to get my child all these supplies if they’re learning from home?”.

While 2020 was a new year for everyone in education, 2021 will bring a little more clarity when it comes to supply lists required for each classroom. Teachers have now experienced months of remote or hybrid learning, and have a better idea of what to expect in fall of 2021. This will likely result in an updated approach to school supply lists. What do students truly need to succeed?

Schools Set the Tone

When it comes to back-to-school shopping, schools set the tone for parents. Many schools will continue to push for covid-safe practices in their community of educators, administrators, and families. 2021 will likely see the rise in education leadership when it comes to things that typically fall outside of the classroom, such as school supply shopping. Schools want to promote a safe and healthy environment.

One thing we heard from our partner schools in 2020 was how important they felt it was to offer an easy and affordable online school shopping experience for their families. They were able to do this through our customized supply kit program. This is just one example of how schools can step up and offer guidance and resources to promote safety within their schools.

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