Laptops and Digital Learning Tools — Not Clothes, Shoes — Will Lead to Blockbuster Back-to-School Spending in the Era of Coronavirus

Nikara Johns

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Back-to-school spending could hit a record high this year. As the coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., school districts in various of states are planning to have students attend virtually in order to accommodate social distancing and safety guidance. Because of this, families are preparing to gear up with equipment for at-home learning, with laptops and computer accessories driving sales.

Spending is expected to total $33.9 billion, up from $26.2 billion last year for families with students in K-12 and breaking the record of $30.3 billion set in 2012, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

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The NRF also found that total spending for college and K-12 combined is projected to reach $101.6 billion, which exceeds last year’s $80.7 billion spend and tops the $100 billion mark for the first time.

More than half of the report’s participants expect to take some classes from home in the fall. As a result, the majority said they will need to buy items such as computers, home furnishings, printers, mouses and other supplies to accommodate the shift. According to the survey, 63% of K-12 families expect to buy computers and other electronics this year, which is up from 54% in 2019.

And despite brick and mortar retailers reopening, 55% of K-12 families said they would buy online, up from 49% last year. In addition, other shopping destinations are expected to see declines, the NRF reported. Only 37% of consumers said they would go to department stores, and 30% plan to shop at clothing stores. That is down from 53% and 45%, respectively, from the year prior.

Plus, the amount parents plan to spend on clothing is down, but only slightly, at an average $234.48, compared with $239.82 last year.

While consumer spend for back-to-school looks positive, uncertainty still remains.

New cases of the coronavirus have surged in states such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas causing reopening plans to come to a halt, another 1.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, and in two weeks, millions of jobless people in the United States will lose $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits. All issues that could push consumer spending back down.

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