Deloitte: COVID-19 Charts Uncertain Course for Back-to-Schoo

|Jul 8|magazine23 min read

NEW YORK, July 8, 2020 /PRNewswire/ --

Key takeaways

  • Despite financial concerns, back-to-school spending will likely remain flat, reaching a collective $28.1 billion for K-12 students, or approximately $529 per student; back-to-college shoppers will spend $25.4 billion, or approximately $1,345 per student.
  • Spending is continuing to shift toward digital products over more traditional items, most notably with a 28% increase in technology spending for K-12 students, now an $8.6 billion market.
  • Only 56% of parents with students in K-12 and 52% of parents with students in college were satisfied with the learning resources provided during the initial outbreak.
  • Due to uncertainty spurred by COVID-19, nearly 2 in 3 (66%) of K-12 parents and 62% of college-age parents are anxious about sending their kids back to school.
  • Parents of both college-age and K-12 students expect to spend more of their budget online this year as they seek out contactless formats such as BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store).

Why this matters
COVID-19 has elevated parent's anxieties around health and finance, and led them to question the quality of education that students received this spring. Concerns that students have fallen behind is evident, with only one-half of K-12 parents satisfied with the education provided, and 25% citing that their children are not prepared for the next grade. This trend is similar to what we found in the Back-to-College survey, as just more than half (52%) of parents noted they were satisfied with the education college students received this spring, and many now contemplating the value of online learning at the price of an on-campus experience. Moreover, 66% of K-12 parents and 62% of college-age parents are anxious about sending their kids back-to-school because of the pandemic. This is further compounded by financial concerns, with 40% of parents worried about making upcoming college-related payments.

Given this year marks a season of uncertainty, it will likely shift the way consumers approach back-to-school and back-to-college shopping — especially around what and how they will purchase.

Back-to-school spending shifts to technology
Back-to-school spending is expected to reach $28.1 billion, averaging $529 per student in households buying clothing, supplies, computers and electronics for children in grades K to 12. While spending is relatively flat from 2019, there is increased emphasis on technology-based learning tools, including resources to supplement the standard K-12 program.

  • Spending on technology products (including personal computers, smartphones, tablets, wearables) is set to increase 28% over 2019. Consumers planning to purchase these items intend to spend an average of $488 on them.
  • Despite spending on clothing, accessories and traditional school supplies dropping by 17%, it remains the largest portion of back-to-school spending, with K-12 parents planning on spending, on average, $336 on these categories.
  • More than half (51%) of parents plan to increase their spend on virtual learning tools. In fact, 40% of parents plan to subscribe their children to a supplementary e-learning platform.
  • Parents also plan to allocate budget for personal health products, spending an average of $46 per student on supplies like sanitizer and wipes.
  • Children have an even greater influence over purchasing decisions with 69% exerting a moderate-to-high influence over computer and hardware purchases this year, up from 54% last year.

Key quote
"The back-to-school shopping season traditionally represents a clear transition to fall, but families this year face a period of uncertainty. With school formats still up in the air for many, the spend is shifting to tech as parents anticipate the possibility of remote learning and the need to supplement students' education. Retailers that can stay nimble and react quickly to changing needs for education amid the challenges of COVID-19, will likely be the ones that will have an opportunity to appeal shoppers this season."

Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader

Health and safety concerns drive consumers to move shopping activity online
With health concerns rising, more back-to-school purchases will occur online (37%, up from 29% in 2019), gaining share from in-store purchases (43%). These are more likely to involve a personal computer due to greater at-home computer use as compared to smartphones, which were a driver of shopping activity last year. At the same time, 20% of respondents remain undecided on the format for spending, which presents a $5.5 billion untapped opportunity for retailers this season.

  • Consumers plan to spend $10.4 billion online this back-to-school season, up from $8.1 billion last year.
  • The use of personal computers for back-to-school shopping is rising to almost two-thirds of back-to-school shoppers (64%) saying they will use a personal computer for shopping versus 46% who will use a smartphone.
  • Further, emerging shopping technologies such as voice assistants and cashier-less stores are starting to gain some traction with 6%-15% of back-to-school shoppers planning to use at least one format.
  • Despite in-store spending projected to decline from $15.7 billion last year to $12.2 billion this year, the physical store remains critical with 43% of total spending projected to take place in-store. In fact, as consumers shift to contactless formats, 26% of shoppers plan to use BOPIS more frequently.
  • As with years past, mass merchants are the preferred shopping location, for back-to-school (81%) shopping, but they may lose some share this year as more people expect to shop closer to home because of the pandemic.
  • When selecting where to shop, price (82%) and convenience (80%) remain the most important criteria for back-to-school shoppers, but safety (59%) is an important consideration for parents this year.
  • Despite the uncertainty on when and how schools will open, about 40% of respondents intend to start their school shopping four to six weeks before school begins, with late July and early August being the busiest — accounting for
    $16.2 billion in seasonal spending.

Back-to-college parents weigh difficult decisions
College families are faced with uncertainty as they weigh the value of education that students are receiving during the COVID-19 era, especially as many colleges and universities are still determining how school will reopen in the fall. Faced with concerns over their family's health, finances and the unknowns of campus life, parents of college-age children still plan to maintain spending in anticipation of a return to campus, and will spend $25.4 billion, or approximately $1,345 per student.

  • Twenty-eight percent of parents may shift plans and have their students join online only institutions this fall; 29% may look to change plans and have their child live at home.
  • Lower income families have additional stresses, as 50% are concerned with making upcoming payments, compared with 30% of families overall. 
  • As consumers seek out safe shopping formats, parents expect to spend more of their back-to-college budget online — 34% in 2020 versus 28% last year.
  • Both price (85%) and convenience (85%) remain the main drivers for purchase decisions, although price sensitivity is decreasing (down from 91% in 2019) as shoppers pay more during the pandemic for brands they trust.
  • Mass merchant stores remain dominant, with 75% of shoppers citing plans to shop for their price, product and convenience, and COVID-19 safety precautions.

Key quote
"College students across the country are ready to return to campus, but continued health, safety and financial concerns are weighing on families. As such, parents plan to give their children as normal a college experience as possible with consistent spending for electronics, household products, clothing and traditional supplies. As parents adapt to the new realities of the pandemic, online shopping is poised to make up a greater percentage of back-to-college purchases, with convenience and safety being more important components of this year's shopping experience."

Stephen Rogers, executive director, Deloitte Insights Consumer Industry Center, Deloitte LLP

Connect with us on Twitter at @DeloitteCB or on LinkedIn @RodSides and @StephenRogers.

About the surveys
The annual "Deloitte Back-to School Survey" was conducted online using an independent research panel May 29-June 5, 2020 and surveyed 1,200 parents who have at least one child attending school in grades K-12 this fall.

The annual "Deloitte Back-to-College Survey" was conducted online using an independent research panel between May 31 and June 17, 2020. The survey polled a sample of 1,025 parents of children heading to colleges and universities this fall.

About Deloitte
Deloitte provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax and advisory services to many of the world's most admired brands, including nearly 90% of the Fortune 500® and more than 7,000 private companies. Our people work across the industry sectors that drive and shape today's marketplace — delivering measurable and lasting results that help reinforce public trust in our capital markets, inspire clients to see challenges as opportunities to transform and thrive, and help lead the way toward a stronger economy and a healthy society. Deloitte is proud to be part of the largest global professional services network serving our clients in the markets that are most important to them. Now celebrating 175 years of service, our network of member firms spans more than 150 countries and territories. Learn how Deloitte's more than 312,000 people worldwide make an impact that matters at www.deloitte.com.

About the Deloitte Foundation
The Deloitte Foundation supports education initiatives that help develop future talent. Our STEM bold plays provide data analytics/computer science curriculum to under-resourced and underrepresented high school students introducing pathways to a range of college and professional possibilities where these skills and mindsets are increasingly important in light of COVID-19.

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SOURCE Deloitte