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Back-to-school shoppers take new approach to getting school supplies due to COVID-19

A new study suggests that PPE and video conferencing tools are finding their way onto shopping lists

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Photo (c) Alina Buzunova - Getty Images
With school systems across the nation wrestling with COVID-19 and trying to figure out how to safely reopen classrooms, conscientious shoppers appear to be taking a much different approach to back-to-school shopping. A new study by mobile advertising company AdColony finds that both students and parents are changing their shopping habits when it comes to getting school supplies.

For one thing, frugality has set in, and back-to-school shoppers are squeezing everything they can out of a dollar. Compared to 2019, 10 percent more shoppers will spend less than $500 and another 10 percent will be doing their buying at dollar stores like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar

Pencils, pens, and PPE

The study also found that a better-safe-than-sorry mindset has taken over, with some consumers adding personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizers to their shopping lists. More than half (57 percent) of survey respondents said they plan to purchase PPE and sanitization products for the school year. 

Another 21 percent plan to purchase study and office furniture for the home. Some shoppers (19 percent) who plan to buy electronics have also added web conferencing accessories to their lists to enhance the virtual learning experience.

In-store still reigns over online

Online shopping hasn’t fully replaced in-store back to school shopping… yet. “Despite the encouragement to stay at home during the pandemic, many back to school shoppers still prefer to shop in-person,” wrote AdColony in its analysis of the study.

“Since last year, the share of shoppers that prefer in-store dropped only slightly by 3 percent. The majority of back to school shoppers (66 percent) will be doing their buying online with most of them preferring home delivery. Only 13 percent prefer the curbside delivery option that many retailers have recently adopted.”

While in-store is the preference, device shopping is up overall. Smartphones are still the favorite (59 percent) digital way to do back-to-school shopping, but more consumers are using computers (up 6 percent) and tablets (up 5 percent) this year. 

The reason behind that, AdColony says, is basically because students and parents are spending most of their time at home these days and have access to their other devices to make purchases. 

The growing emphasis on mobile

While a slight shift does not necessarily leverage a trend, Robert Williams at Mobile Marketer thinks that the current shopping trends may last. With back-to-school shopping season being the second-most important time of the year for retailers, it might serve as a preview of what to expect during the upcoming holiday months.

“As AdColony's survey found, the pandemic is not only affecting how people shop — with a growing emphasis on mobile — but also what they plan to buy for students whose schools offer some form of distance learning,” Williams said. “Consumer receptivity to mobile advertising suggests marketers have strategies in place to reach people when they're most ready to buy.”

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