Paper Matters Blog
Back to School Trends: A Look at the 2021 Deloitte Survey

After a challenging year of unpredictable school formats, the retail industry is eagerly anticipating bouncing back this back-to-school season, projected to reach its highest sales level in recent years.  According to the 2021 Deloitte Back-to School Survey, overall spend is predicted to be up 16% vs. 2020 to $32 billion for K-12 students, resulting in an average spend of $612 per child.  The survey also found that consumer sentiments are improving, with 55% feeling more confident about the economy’s prospects (vs. 17% in 2020) and 78% reporting a similar or better household financial situation (vs. 71% in 2020). Many children are returning to school in-person, which accounts for much of the increase, but this return means spending differently from years past. Your supply list will likely differ from last year—remote learning meant stocking up on headphones, upgrading your wifi and making sure your child was prepared to bring school home—but smaller household budgets and leftover school supplies means avoiding some 2019 school shopping habits as well. Before you join the school spend, here are a few tips on prep.

Take Inventory

You’d be surprised by how many items you still have in stock. Remote learning practices and previous bulk buys probably mean that have plenty of school supplies that you can reuse this year. Start by doing a sweep of closets, desk drawers, and kids rooms that could hold hidden treasures. After you take stock, make a list of what you have and what you don’t, and keep this list somewhere accessible so that you don’t forget it when you go to shop for school supplies. It might even help to take a picture of your current supplies to refresh your memory when you’re shopping. Just because you may be spending more doesn’t mean you can’t spend wisely.

Order Online

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has caused shifts in what and how consumers will purchase.  Deloitte indicates school supplies will see a 10% increase from 2020 spending, though down from 2019 spend.  Technology purchases will experience continued growth (up 37% YOY) and COVID-related items such as wipes, hand sanitizers and desks/chairs for the home (a newly added category in 2020) are estimated to increase 42%.  Concerns around stock outs due to supply chain disruptions, along with a clearer picture about what the school year will look like will cause customers to shop earlier this year, with 59% of BTS spend happening by the end of July (vs. 45% in 2020).   BOPIS (buy online pickup in store) and curbside pickup also continue to grow in popularity, with 34% of shoppers planning to use these services more often. These options are great for avoiding the procrastinator’s crush right before school starts and avoiding contact with large groups of unknown people.

Talk to the Teachers

When we think about traditional back to school shopping, we likely picture parents buying supplies for children – but teachers are increasingly spending their own money to supplement school budgetary shortfalls.  During the 2019-2020 school year, teachers spent an average of $745 on school supplies, according to AdoptAClassroom.org, a figure that grew $252 on average with distance learning.  As a result, crowd funding – the practice of raising money through small donations from many people via any number of internet-based platforms – has grown in popularity with teachers in recent years.  In addition to AdopAClassroom.org, popular platforms include DonorsChoose.org, #clearthelist and GoFundMe. It might be a good idea to reach out to your children’s teachers and learn what they’ve already invested in for their classroom. This way, you aren’t doubling efforts and can fill the gaps for your kids with your shopping instead of duplicating their educator’s efforts.

Buy What’s Helpful

A return to school usually means new sneakers, fresh outfits and other buys that your kids can get excited about, but this may not be the year for that. Remember, your young students haven’t been around their peers nearly as much as usual, so clothing items and shoes don’t have the same wear and tear that they usually would, and you may have some t-shirts that still haven’t seen the inside of a classroom. Instead, make sure your children have the items that will make their return to school and smooth and effective as possible—notebooks and paper for note-taking or a physical copy of a book or two. It may seem like a minor detail, but whether you’re buying supplies for your own children or helping a teacher or student in need, be sure to include paper.  While the pandemic may have accelerated the use of technology in the classroom, paper still plays an important role in the learning process.  A November survey by the Paper & Packaging Board found that 85% of respondents feel that paper continues to play an important role as tech advances.  In addition, 81% indicated they concentrate better when reading a printed book, 82% felt taking notes by hand helps retain information and 84% said seeing words on paper helps remember what was read.

Few parents want to think about shopping for the coming school year, especially in the midst of summer vacation and the July heat, but many parents are already getting their shopping done, and the first day back-to-will creep up on you quickly, so it pays to get it done.

For more tips and trends, visit our blog or, check out our podcast with Classroom Central to learn more about the obstacles that our educators are facing.

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