Uncertainty Looms Over Back-To-School Shopping Amid New COVID Concerns

Nevin Barich

Nevin Barich

LOS ANGELES , August 20, 2021 () –

This past spring, it was thought that back-to-school shopping in the United States this year would easily top the numbers reached in 2020, as Americans began receiving the various COVID-19 vaccines available on the market, coronavirus cases fell and a return to everyday normalcy began.

In fact, according to a Deloitte poll conducted among parents from May 27-June 5, it was estimated that back-to-school spending for kids in grades K-12 would reach $32.5 billion this year, up 16% from 2020 and 17% from 2019, and averaging out to about $612 per student.

But oh, how times have changed.

Since then, the country has been battling the delta variant of the coronavirus, the current dominant strain of the coronavirus said to be much more infectious than the original strain, to the point that even those who have been vaccinated are being infected with COVID, breakthrough cases among the vaccinated are rising, and in rare instances there have been major cases of the virus that have sent vaccinated people to the hospital.

That’s leading to worries that back-to-school plans could change at the last minute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reversed its policy on masking, calling for vaccinated individuals to once again wear masks indoors to prevent the spread of COVID. The new guidance as well as the uncertainty regarding the delta variant have prompted consumers to rethink decisions about back-to-school shopping, said Camilo Lyon, a lifestyle brands and wellness analyst with global financial services firm BTIG.

“Where there had been a more robust level of spending on apparel categories geared towards going out, there has been a little bit of a slowdown in recent weeks across various retail channels,” he said.

But major retailers remain hopeful. Chains like Target Corp. and Staples Inc. are still betting that parents will buy up clothing, backpacks, lunchboxes, notebooks and other items that they didn’t purchase last year, when many students attended school remotely during the height of the pandemic.

“People are questioning whether students will actually go back to school and parents are crossing their fingers hoping it really will happen,” said Jim Weinberg, the chief merchandising officer at DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse, which is owned by Designer Brands Inc. “But we still expect to have a very robust back-to-school season. Because people didn’t make as many purchases last year, they are approaching this year with gusto.”

How much gusto remains the question. A few months ago, the answer seemed obvious amid the new COVID-19 vaccines. But with the current impact of the delta variant, the future seems far less certain.

Nevin Barich is the Consumer Products Analyst for Industry Intelligence, which can help YOU better address your own industry challenges. To arm yourself with the latest market intelligence, contact ClientCare@IndustryIntel.com. Ask us about our interactive intelligence map and search bot on Microsoft Teams.


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