How Will Back-to-School Shopping Be Different This Year?

family shopping for school supplies
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Back to school season is always a major time for shopping. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $849 on school items this year — $59 more than last year, with total back-to-school spending expected to reach a record $37.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

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And higher spending isn’t the only way back-to-school shopping will be different this year.

Expect Shortages on High-Demand Items

Products like backpacks, sneakers, some gadgets and stationery will be in high demand this year, and supply chains may not be able to keep up, Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told USA Today.

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“While we are unlikely to see apocalyptic shortages, the continued pressure on supply chains means that not all retailers will get an optimal amount of supply,” Saunders told the news outlet. “What this means is consumers will have less choice, and some may not be able to get exactly what they want, especially towards the end of the back-to-school season.”

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Keith Jelinek, managing director of retail practice at Berkeley Research Group, told USA Today that consumers should start shopping earlier this year to avoid shortages.

Learn: The 37 Mistakes We Make When Shopping at Costco, Amazon, Target and Walmart

“We are seeing instances where demand is outpacing supply of goods, especially in apparel,” Jelinek told the outlet. “Consumers might see the apparel or sneakers item they want but may not be able to get it in the size or color they need.”

Prices Will Be Higher on Some Goods

You may have to pay more for your kids’ back-to-school wardrobe this year. Jelinek told USA Today that due to inflation, consumers should expect to pay 10% to 15% more on apparel compared to last year. He also believes retailers won’t be offering the same level of sales and discounts on apparel as in previous years.

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You May Need To Plan for Possible Periods of Remote Learning

While parents are spending a lot of money on clothes this year — children have grown since the last round of real back-to-school shopping was done and trends have changed as well — electronics is still the top spending category for back-to-school shopping this year, the National Retail Federation reported. Parents are buying more laptops, calculators, tablets and headphones as they plan for the possibility of remote schooling, NPR reported.

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Masks and Hand Sanitizer Are Now on the Shopping List

Back-to-school shopping typically involves buying new shoes and clothes, gadgets and electronics, and stationery and other classroom supplies — but this year there may be a couple of new items on your list. Depending on where you live, your child may have to be masked up to return to the classroom. According to JungleScout, search volume for the keyword “kids face masks” was up 204% on Amazon over the past month in anticipation of the return to school.

Read: Costco, Amazon and 16 Other Companies That Raised Their Minimum Wage to $15 (or More)

And although some schools may provide hand sanitizer, sending your kids to school with their own supply of hand sanitizer is a good idea just in case the school does not provide it or runs out.

More Shopping Will Be Done Online

While most parents still plan to do the majority of their shopping in-store, more will be shopping online than in previous years. This year, 39% of parents plan to do their back-to-school shopping online, an increase from 37% in 2020, according to Deloitte’s 2021 back-to-school survey.

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See: 20 Ways To Spend Less Money at Walmart

“If you look back before the pandemic, the amount of spending in-store was much higher and online much lower,” Rod Sides, vice chairman and U.S. leader in retail and distribution at Deloitte, told Forbes. “Today the two lines — percentage of share in-store versus online — are converging. Our hypothesis is that we have seen a permanent shift in the mix of channels. A lot of parents have figured out it is easier to buy online, which is assisted by the new ways retailers are adapting with buy-online-pickup-in-store and curbside pickup.”

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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