Back-To-School Shopping Looks a Lot Different in 2020: Here’s How


Even this late into August, the 2020 school year is still extremely uncertain. Many schools and universities are still working through how social distancing will be included in their plans — either partially or fully planning to incorporate virtual learning into their curriculum, adjusting classroom layouts, and altering the rules around extracurricular activities. Adding to the stress is the fact that schools that have reopened are being forced to close or reevaluate their plans due to spikes in coronavirus cases.

How will this mindset of uncertainty and incorporation of virtual learning affect what back-to-school shoppers buy, when they go shopping, and what channels they purchase? Will students be buying more supplies to limit sharing among students? Will more parents send students to school with homemade lunches rather than sending them into the cafeteria?

Shopping Baskets Will Look Different This Year

In a recent survey of 8,000 back-to-school shoppers, Inmar Intelligence found that while consumers were planning to purchase typical products like school supplies and apparel, new items have found their way into carts. Fifty-four percent of shoppers are planning to purchase items that reduce the spread of germs. That’s higher than shoppers planning to purchase grocery items (44%) and household items for the classroom or dorm (37%).

And, in anticipation of virtual, at-home learning, 30% of shoppers are planning to purchase homeschooling supplies.

Retailers can make consumers’ lives simpler by ensuring items in these categories are merchandised with school supplies not only in-stores but online as well.

Many Back-to-School Purchases Will Be Made Online

It’s already difficult to bring your children to the grocery store, but factor in masks, social distancing and new retailer safety protocols, simple trips become infinitely more stressful. But with 84% of back-to-school shoppers involving the student in the purchase decision, it’s important to find alternatives to traditional in-store shopping experiences.

So, many shoppers are turning to an online-only solution for their back-to-school needs. Across multiple categories, the percentage increase of shoppers planning to purchase items online-only increased by 46.2% from March to May. Particular categories, like apparel, saw a 125% increase from March to May in shoppers indicating they planned to purchase those items online only.

It wasn’t just e-commerce-friendly items like clothing that were in shoppers digital baskets, 44% of back-to-school shoppers are planning to increase the frequency of purchasing their groceries online as well.

Discounts and Product Availability Matter to Consumers

Shoppers are facing higher prices at the grocery store with more constricted wallets — they are looking for brands and retailers that provide them with a good valu.e. and a good shopping experience. It’s no surprise that with 16.3 million people in the U.S. collecting unemployment benefits and the food-at-home consumer price index continuing to rise, 70% of back-to-school shoppers cite “available discounts” as an extremely significant factor in determining where they shop this season.

However, shoppers not only want the best deal, but they also want the best selection and experience. Because consumers are trying to make less frequent trips to stores, 73% of shoppers indicated a wide selection of products and items would be an extremely important factor in where they choose to shop for back-to-school items.

Brands and retailers can also help improve the shopping experience with loyalty programs and flexible return policies which 54% and 60%, respectively, of consumers, ranked as very significant factors in how they determine where to shop.

The new school year is a time for students to take on new responsibilities and for families to create new routines. Back-to-school shoppers will be looking for brands and retailers that adapt seamlessly to these new shopping habits and health and safety concerns. Continue to be agile in how you message to consumers in order to stay relevant and match how shoppers are feeling as fall approaches for optimal back-to-school success.

Sarah Hughes is product marketing manager at Inmar Intelligence.

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