Zebra, a client of VASO Group, showcases their notebook and pens for pandemic back-to-school season

Pandemic back-to-school season is upon us. This year, it’s your average backpack-wearing, pen-slinging time of the year, but with a household twist. With states and local districts calling their own shots, there is no specific, agreed-upon date for a return to classrooms. Many school districts have chosen to stick to virtual learning until mid-September. As such, families are looking at the possibility of a long-term “learn-from-home” period, and school supply brands must adapt to this change.

Back-to-school shopping traditionally started in July, per Square. Spending typically took place over the two to three months leading up to the new school year with a peak right before school started. Brick and mortar stores dedicated seasonal shelf space to school supplies until Halloween took over in mid- to late-September.

Uncertainty about the future of schooling has definitely impacted supply orders for brick and mortars. Many of these distribution channels have cancelled orders, which means excess stock may be available for eCommerce. If factory orders have been cut, there could be shortages. Fortunately, eCommerce presents an opportunity to thrive during this unusual pandemic back-to-school shopping season.

School Supplies are in Demand

According to a NerdWallet survey, 47% of parents expect to spend less on back-to-school shopping than in pre-pandemic years. On the flip side, 20% of parents expect to spend more because of the pandemic. Parents want to set their children up for educational success, whether that takes place at home, school, or in a hybrid learning situation.

National Retail Federation (NRF) reports planned back-to-school spending per family is expected to average $789.49, up from last year’s record of $696.70. Electronics and furniture for a more permanent home study space make up a healthy portion of the increased spending. However, traditional school supplies are projected by NRF to average $131.37, compared to $117.49 from last year.

Even in a virtual classroom, some physical supplies are still needed. With many families financially impacted by the pandemic, parents will seek out sales. eCommerce can deliver needs for parents and teachers, no matter how the next school year looks. In fact, 55% of K-12 shoppers and 43% of college shoppers plan to buy online.

Preparing for Pandemic Back-to-School Purchasing

The pandemic has taught everyone to expect the unexpected and be prepared to pivot. Keeping that in mind, here are some things you can do to manage the school supply season:

  • Expect a longer online purchasing season this year, likely from June through October. Brick and mortar stores may move into other holiday displays while shoppers still seek school supplies. You may not see the same peaks and strong definition for the school supply season as you’ve seen in past years. Consider running longer ad campaigns or keep them running year round.

  • Gone are the days of community supplies and supply sharing in the classroom. Parents are purchasing solely for their own children. Kids need personal containers for their supplies, and they may need to label each of their belongings.

  • Create virtual bundles. In the past, some school districts would purchase stock and repackage it for students, making it easy for parents to just pay the school for all of the necessities. You have a new opportunity to sell the basics in bundles.

  • Don’t forget about the teachers. When in-person instruction resumes, teachers need supplies that are easy to sanitize. If you have products like steel writing instruments, consider featuring those to reach this specific audience.

  • Students will need more of certain supplies that get used up over time, like construction paper, pens and pencils. Disposable and hygienic supplies are important, which means buying fewer reusable items.

  • Schools that resume classroom learning may eliminate recess, physical education and shared lunchrooms. Students may need to provide cleaning supplies to keep the “pod” clean.

  • Since the future of schooling is still uncertain, build out a store page with different end uses for your products. Show shoppers that your items are useful in both home and classroom learning environments.

Remember that you are in a unique position to provide stability to parents, students and teachers in this time of unpredictability. If you need guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.