55% of parents of K-12 students say they will buy online, up from 49% last year. Plus, more parents plan to use buy online pick up in store services, according to back-to-school surveys from research firms NRF and Deloitte.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, parents are unsure if they are sending their kids and college students back to school in the fall. Regardless of whether or not students go back to school or continue in-home learning, they will still need supplies.

Parents with students in grades Kindergarten-12 plan to spend about $10.4 billion online for back-to-school supplies, up 28.4% from $8.1 billion last year, according to the 2020 Deloitte back-to-school survey of 1,200 U.S. parents conducted May 29-June 5. Plus, 37% of parents plan to spend their back-to-school budget online, up from 29% in 2019.

Online shopping minimizes contact with others

Despite the increase in online spending, 43% of respondents still plan to purchase supplies in-store. And with consumers wanting to minimize contact with others because of the pandemic, 26% plan to take advantage of buy online pick up in store services.

40% of parents plan to buy less-traditional supplies, such as technology-related products, as classes shifted online during the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, 28% of respondents plan to increase their spending on computers, laptops and tech accessories for K-12 students. And more than half (51%) of parents plan to increase their spending on virtual learning tools.

Deloitte’s findings dovetail with the National Retail Federation’s annual back-to-school survey of 7,481 U.S. consumers conducted July 1-July 8 with data firm Proper Insights. The majority of consumers (88%) say the coronavirus will affect their back-to-school shopping in some form this year, as 55% of parents of K-12 students say they will buy online, up from 49% last year.

Back-to-school shopping looks different in 2020 for many reasons

“By any measure, this is an unprecedented year with great uncertainty, including how students will get their education this fall whether they are in kindergarten or college,” says NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “Most parents don’t know whether their children will be sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer in the dining room, or a combination of the two.”

The consumers surveyed by NRF said they had only finished 17% of their shopping by early July. 54% said they have not finished their shopping because they don’t know what to purchase yet, and only 10% had received lists of required school supplies. 68% plan to start back-to-school shopping 3 weeks before school starts.

For parents who expect their students to learn at home, 72% plan to buy computers and home furnishings, 36% plan to buy laptops, 22% computer speakers and headphones and 17% plan to buy desks, chairs, workbooks and calculators, according to NRF.


For college-aged students, 43% of parents surveyed by NRF plan to purchase supplies online, but that’s down from 45% in 2019. However, 60% of parents of college-aged students plan to buy electronics, up from 53% last year.

“College shoppers, in particular, may be planning to choose just one or two places to pick up the items they need rather than browsing at multiple locations,” says Prosper Insights executive vice president of strategy Philip Rist. “And college students beyond their first year may already have most of the big purchases that they need.”

Total back-to-school spending—online and in-store—for both K-12 students and college-aged students could reach $101.6 billion, up 25.9% from last year’s $80.7 billion, according to NRF.