Getting students ready for back to school has never been as hectic as it was in 2020. In the fall, many schools tried keeping classes in person as much as possible, but once another outbreak struck, students and teachers had to transition to at-home learning. School has been so unpredictable that both retailers and consumers alike are unsure of how to prepare for the next season.
Vaccinations Bring A Positive Economic Outlook
The rolling out of the new COVID-19 vaccines is definitely changing the outlook for the fall 2021 back-to-school season for the better. According to the New York Times database, new COVID cases continue to decrease with each passing day. During the week of February 7-13, there were an average of 91,130 cases per day, a decrease of 39 percent from the average two weeks earlier. While we are still unsure if these decreasing numbers are due to the vaccines, it is leading up to be a busy and successful summer buying season for retailers.
“The success for the upcoming back-to-school season will be linked to the efficacy of the vaccination rollouts as well as the ability for schools to be able to communicate their plans as early as possible,” Hemant Kalbag, Managing Director with Alvarez & Marsal’s Consumer and Retail Group, said. “It is hard to dictate exactly how parents will be shopping, but every indication is likely that in-person education in the fall will resemble what is was pre-pandemic, so that is really good news.”
The Chief Economist at Deloitte predicts that the second half of 2021 will be economically strong, with the vaccines having a contributing factor. Consumers are expected to show confidence in their spending, especially as more stimulus checks are distributed. Kalbag has also seen research describing the highest level of confidence that consumers are indicating post vaccine. That is the biggest driver, so there is a strong correlation between the vaccine rollout and consumer confidence around shopping.
Back-to-School 2021 Spending Shifts
Kalbag says that the actual spending for the back-to-school season in 2020 was higher than previous years, likely driven by the need to purchase digital items such as laptops, headphones, and monitors. While no parents were buying their children new clothes and shoes since most learning was done at home, we are headed toward a more regular shopping cycle in 2021, which means retailers should expect consumers to be looking to purchase the normal supplies, including backpacks, notebooks, and new clothes and shoes.
“While 2021 is already different from 2020, we will not see full recovery in school-related sales until there is further uniformity and predictability in school policies across the country,” Meyar Sheik, President and Chief Commerce Officer of Kibo, said. “Since many school districts are currently fully or partially open, retailers can focus on selling disinfectants, wipes, and related products in small, easy-to-use packaging for students to use on a daily basis. The same is true for packaged snacks and lunches that are safe, nutritious, and easy to consume.”
Sheik says the demand for laptop, Wi-Fi gear, and printers will continue to be robust for those students who are still learning from home or through a hybrid environment. There is also expected to be a boost in demand for clothing, sports gear, and accessories like backpacks as vaccinations continue to be distributed throughout the year, so indie retailers should plan for a demand on these supplies moving into the fall semester.
How Retailers Can Prepare for Back-to-School
“Given the uncertainty, I think the best thing that retailers can do right now is to stock the ‘basics’ – the core products that their customers always seem to need and buy,” Jeff Hansen, co-founder and CEO of Peter Manning NYC, an apparel retailer, said. “We’re fortunate in that our whole merchandise strategy is focused on key clothing pieces that every guy needs, just reimagined and re-proportioned for our specific customers, so that has helped us a lot over the past year.
The other thing Peter Manning NYC learned early on in the pandemic is to stock those essential pieces early and often. With shipping delays and manufacturing shortages, Hansen says it is worth carrying a little more inventory to know that they can get product out when it is needed. Also, consistency helps with vendor relationships and ensures that they will go the extra mile when you need them to. Peter Manning NYC has found this approach to be a good strategy for back-to-school, or really any time right now.
The biggest challenge that retailers will face when preparing for the back-to-school season is how agile and responsive you can make your supply chain to respond to changing consumer demand, according to Kalbag. Because of the unpredictability of the unknown, retailers should ideally be able to make changes as late in the season as possible when making choices for what to stock. The later you make these decisions, the better it will be because you will have more information on if schools will be promoting in-person or at-home learning.
“The interesting thing is that back-to-school was largely an in-store shopping experience for a number of years. Two-thirds of folks would shop in store, especially while looking for apparel and shoes so they make sure they get the right sizes,” Rod Sides, Vice Chairman & U.S. Retail and Distribution Leader at Deloitte, said. “It is incumbent upon retailers to make their stores safe and inviting. Convenience is a big factor in retail today, so in certain instances, it is more convenient for parents to go to the store to try on clothes and make sure they fit. Retailers need to make sure they not only have the right products, but also the right experiences and safety protocols, such as open fitting rooms.”
With these tips in mind, here are some must-have back-to-school supplies that retailers should stock up on to be as prepared as possible:
Zum Bar Goat’s Milk Soap
Send college students off to school right with Zum Bar Soaps, which are made from whiffable essential oil blends infused into olive, coconut, and castor oils, along with goat’s milk. Handcrafted with ingredients you can say, spell, and love to smell, the goat’s milk, is a naturally homogenized, silky-soft moisturizer. It is full of the good fats that help your skin’s pH levels lock in extra hydration.
Pencil Pouch Kit
Instead of making parents buy separate pens, pencils, erasers, and other supplies, this Pencil Pouch Kit comes with everything students need to learn throughout the day. 28 pieces come in the pouch, including 6 #2 pencils, 6 pens, 12 colored pencils, 1 eraser, and 1 pencil and crayon sharpener, among others.
DollarDays International, Inc.
Sperry Men’s Captain’s CVO Surplus Sneaker
Boys can wear these classy black sneakers as part of their uniform or as a way to dress up any outfit. It is also a great sneaker for all age groups, from grade school to college.
C & B Corp.
Crayola School Supplies Caddy
Whether a child is learning at home or at school, this Crayola caddy is the perfect organizer to keep all of their pens, pencils, erasers, and anything else neat and tidy. It has four divided sections for better organizing as well as a handle for carrying it from one location to another.
Four Seasons General Merchandise
No matter the age or gender, Dallas Wholesalers has a backpack for every kind of student. From sports themes and outer space to flamingos and fast food, each backpack provides a bright and colorful look that works great for school or travel purposes.
Mary Jane Black School Shoes
Perfect for schools with uniforms or some sort of dress code, these black Mary Jane shoes can complete any outfit. It also has a black flower design on the front of the shoe for a pop of style. Available in kids sizes 11-3.
Dollar Item Direct
Sassy Sunflower Pens
These Sassy Sunflower Pens are so much fun to write with. Order 24 and get a free canister display, which looks great as a counter display.
My Jewel Thief Inc.
Between polo shirts and khaki pants, Pro 5 USA has everything parents need to ensure their boy has everything they need to wear to school. They offer the best in top-notch quality with low pricing, so you can make a profit and your customers do not have to break the bank.
Pro 5 USA
Allergy Alert Wristbands
These wristbands can help to save a child from an allergic reaction at school or daycare. Available in diabetes, fish, and shellfish allergies, these wristbands are to be worn to notify caregivers of any allergy that children might have.
Lotus Light Enterprises, Inc.
High Rise Solid Five Buttons Skinny Jeans
Everyone always needs new jeans to start off a brand new school year, and jeans by Blue Age are high quality and will last for years to come. Featuring five pockets with a button and zip fly closure, they are designed with butt lifting patterns and made with stretch denim.
Blue Age Jeans