Parents of students in kindergarten through 12th grade plan to spend $12.5 billion online this back-to-school season, up from $10.4 billion last year, according to a new survey from Deloitte.

Ecommerce gets high marks with parents this back-to-school shopping season. Parents will head to the web more for school items this year, according to a new survey from consulting firm Deloitte LLP.

Consumers shopping for children in kindergarten through 12th grade plan to spend nearly 39% of their back-to-school shopping budgets online, up from 37% in 2020, Deloitte says. In 2019, pre-pandemic, shoppers said they would spend 29% of their back-to-school shopping budgets online. Meanwhile, in-store spending is flat at 43%.  18% of K-12 households remain undecided about where they will do their shopping, representing a $6 billion opportunity for retailers, Deloitte says.

Deloitte conducted its online “Back-to School Survey” May 27 to June 5, 2021, and surveyed 1,200 parents with at least one child attending school in K-12th grade this fall.

The research also finds K-12 families plan to spend $12.5 billion online this back-to-school season, up 20.2% from $10.4 billion last year.


Overall back-to-school spending will reach $32.5 billion for K-12 students or approximately $612 per student. This represents a 16% increase from 2020, which is the highest percentage in recent years and greater than pre-pandemic levels, Deloitte says.

“As Americans anticipate a more traditional return to the back-to-school season, parents are ready to spend more and earlier to ensure their children have what they need to be successful,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader, in a statement. “This includes increased spending on technology for both K-12 and college students, demonstrating a shifting focus on how students learn as well as how parents are shopping for these necessities. We’ve entered a new era of schooling where traditional back-to-school supplies are fading in favor of tech, while consumers expect certain conveniences and competitive prices.”

Technology isn’t just impacting what parents buy for back-to-school, it’s also driving how they complete their transactions, Deloitte says.


For example, the survey also finds the following about K-12 back-to-school shoppers’ preferences: 

  • A majority of these consumers plan to use personal computers (67%) or smartphones (58%) to shop, up from 64% and 46% in 2020, respectively.
  • Social media is an integral part of the shopping journey for 41% of K-12 parents. Among those using social media, 42% are visiting retailers’ social media pages not only to assess their products but to get a sense of their personality and purpose, compared with 30% in 2020.
  • 44% plan to leverage tech-enabled shopping tools offered by retailers for their back-to-school purchases. Shopping using a voice assistant is the most preferred offering (20%), followed by digital wallets (17%), and then “buy” buttons on social media, virtual reality and chatbots (each at 15%).

The pandemic has also introduced new shopping preferences—as well concerns that items will be out of stock—for K-12 back-to-school shoppers, Deloitte says.


  • 34% of these consumers plan to use omnichannel services such as buy online pick up in store and curbside pickup more frequently than they did last year.
  • Ongoing supply chain challenges and lingering concerns about out-of-stock items will pull back-to-school purchases forward, Deloitte says. 50% of K-12 shoppers are concerned about stockouts, especially for tech items. As a result, 59% of back-to-school spending is forecast to occur by the end of July, compared with 45% in 2020.
  • Traditionally younger parents of school children in K-12 grade are twice as likely as parents of college students to use emerging technology such as voice assistants and chatbots to complete their purchases.
  • The pandemic pushed education into the digital age, driving a 37% increase in technology spending for K-12 students, Deloitte says.
  • Back-to-school spending on technology products (personal computers, smartphones, tablets, wearables, etc.) is expected to reach $11.8 billion this year, with wearable tech experiencing the biggest growth, Deloitte says.
  • Although mass merchants remain the most popular retail channel for this group of shoppers to visit (74%), online-only stores are the preferred format for technology purchases. 49% plan to shop at online retailers and 41% at dollar stores.



Deloitte also separately surveyed parents of college students about their back-to-college shopping plans. Deloitte conducted it 2021 Back-to-College Survey online between May 28 and June 17, 2021, and polled 961 parents of children heading to colleges and universities this fall.

That research suggests back-to-college parents plan to spend $26.7 billion, or approximately $1,459 per student, up 5% from last year. Additionally, college families plan to spend $9.4 billion or 35.2% of their back-to-school shopping online, up from 34% in 2020 and 28% in 2019

When it comes to back-to-college shoppers: 

  • More than one-third (34%) expect to spend more on college items this year.
  • This group plans to increase back-to-college spending on technology by 17%.
  • The overall use of technology-based shopping tools like digital wallets and voice assistants is lower for back-to-college shoppers (30%) than for back-to-school consumers (44%)
  • Back-to-college purchasers are less likely to use social media to assist in their shopping than back-to-school shoppers (22% versus 41%).


The overall economic outlook heading into fall is positive, Deloitte says, with 55% of K-12 parents and 46% of college parents more confident about the economy’s prospects (up from 17% and 14%, respectively, in 2020), and household financial situations are holding steady with 78% of K-12 parents and 75% of college parents saying they are in similar or better shape than last year.