Predictions for 2021 may be difficult to make as there was not a traditional back-to-school scenario. As many students assumed a work-from-home mode, houses had to be outfitted with supplies as well as technology. The question is, will that be replicated in a post-COVID-19 world?

Back-to-school is big business. It’s hard to say when it begins, but around mid-July, shoppers tend to see both school supply promotions at mass merchants and college dorm goods buying ramp up. In fact, as I went to place a Target order this past weekend, I was greeted by their back-to-school promotion. And in the physical world, here’s a sign I encountered as I rode past our local elementary school. Everyone’s gearing up for fall, especially this year.

Predictions for 2021 may be difficult to make as there was not a traditional back-to-school scenario. As many students assumed a work-from-home mode, houses had to be outfitted with supplies as well as technology. The question is, will that be replicated in a post-COVID-19 world? There are also questions about the shopper’s mindset. Despite these dynamics, Deloitte’s consumer research survey of 1,200 K-12 parents finds projected revenues of $32.5 billion for K-12 or $612 per student. A similar survey of 961 college parents finds the higher education market came in at $26.7 billion, which equates to $1,459 per student.

Prime Day usually kicks off back-to-school shopping, or does it? One might just assume that shoppers began their shopping on the annual Amazon sales day, yet Digital Commerce 360’s survey of 505 online shoppers finds that only 5% made a back-to-school purchase on Prime Day. Fast forward as retailers are readying their promotions and their storefronts to get their share of the season’s spoils.

All-season-long discounts

As a mother of a college sophomore, I noticed in early June that retailers were encouraging me to sign up for future college savings. The first indication of the back-to-school season was a text from The Container Store on June 5 letting me know about its College Savings program. 15% off would be available if I texted “Student,” and I would receive it for one month. Rather than watching out for sales, I know that I will always receive a little something, making me more likely to be loyal to one of my favorite stores. In the past, I can remember one-off opportunities to receive 20% off in its POP Program but not across the board.

Bed Bath and Beyond ups the ante with 20% off and it allows for unlimited use even teasing shoppers about its unusual nature. The offer extends through Sept. 30 and mirrors the discount coupons many of its customers already use, so it may not be as special as the retailer might suggest. Its dorm pickup option can come in handy if there’s a nearby store and has been a perennial favorite and copied by others over the years.


Conveniences are welcome as parents are time-starved

Retailers have packaged products to make it easy for shoppers, saving them both time and money. OCM’s Campus Pak is a perfect choice and avoids having to shop for all these items individually. Many grade schools also offer boxes of school supplies to save buyers time.

Target knows that back-to-school means lists from schools. It has made it both convenient and customized for shoppers to access those lists with products at your fingertips. Also, the retailer makes finding onsite college dorm and back-to-school destinations simple with popups and category listings for easy access.

Back-to-dorm delivery options always desirable

When it came to college students, retailers were already ahead of the curve with omnichannel options. Delivery can always be challenging particularly as you get close to packing the car and heading to campus. Michaels extends curbside and in-store pickup, which saves on the shipping fees. For those who desire instant gratification, it has same-day delivery in place for a fee of $9.99. Depending on where your dorm may be, this could be a good value.

Direct buyers to must-haves

There is usually a difference between the retailer’s perception of a must-have and my own. Either way, I find it valuable to print some of the lists that retailers and subject matter experts make available. That serves as a starting point and allows you find what works for your child and then customize accordingly. I have found some of the space-saving items and decor to be particularly helpful and things I might never have thought along the college shopping journey. Parents are busy, so showing them the items that must be on their kid’s list is a time-saver for all. Pottery Barn Teen takes just such an approach.

Tools and tactics that matter

Seeing products by price points is invaluable as we’re all looking to save with steep tuitions ahead of us. Wayfair lays out the options for shoppers as they dig for the deals.


Start with big-ticket purchases

For my daughter, that was the computer. Companies like Apple have us covered if you don’t want to purchase direct as similar promotions are usually available at their retail partners.

Financing funds the experience

According to Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, 29.1% have put in place financing options. Given the upcoming investment that looms in front of us, it may be wise to take advantage of financing options from companies like Affirm, AfterPay and Klarna. Abt is my go-to source for appliances. We’ll be purchasing the Frigidaire air conditioner and as shown below, I am given the option to check out with six payments via an Abt credit card or to do four interest-free payments with Affirm.

Remember and reward the educators

We want to remember our educators because without them, back-to-school would be meaningless. Extending benefits to teachers is something that many stores have adopted. Blick has a nice resource center for educators and they can set up an account. Educators can get quotes on products and build supply lists for students. Art room aid for teachers who need help paying for supplies is a nice touch for cash-strapped educators and bodes well for brand building.

And whatever you do, don’t forget the snacks. I had always sent camp care packages but hadn’t thought about this for college. I wouldn’t miss this chance to connect with my kid.