Students and retailers are in a confusing spot as back-to-school season approaches. Some states and schools are delaying class indefinitely, others are hoping to carry on as normal. People aren’t sure what to prepare for, or what to buy.

Only 10% of families surveyed by the National Retail Federation said they received a list of school supplies in early July. 40% expected to get one by the end of the month, and 30% expected a supplies list by the end of August. 54% of families don’t know what they’ll need for the impending school season.

Who’s buying binders?

With traditional class looking increasingly unlikely (and unsanitary), Staples is lowering prices and cutting inventory on items like binders, notebooks, and pencils. Product listings of binders on the office retailer’s website have dropped by 15% since the start of 2020. Meanwhile, discounts on binders continue to rise. Pencil inventory is down 18% since last year.

It might be too late to back-order those backpacks. Staples backpack inventory has grown by 33% since November

iPads are the new composition books

Best Buy is increasing its product listings for laptops, iPads, tablets, and monitors, hoping to cash in on virtual school practices. And with Zoom as the new classroom, the average price for webcams is on the rise.

Retail experts are divided on how all this uncertainty will affect family spending. The NRF predicts that parents with children in elementary school through high school will actually end up spending more on school supplies, an average $789.49 per family, compared to the previous record of $696.70. A laptop is an expensive school supply for your first grader. 

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, estimates back-to-college spending to drop 37.8% from last year and elementary and high school spending to be at its lowest since 2015.

Pajamas are the new school uniforms

Kids and juniors clothing companies will certainly take a hit this fall. Retailers like American Eagle, Abercrombie, and The Children’s Place generate around 30% of revenue in Q3 (back-to-school season). Dillard’s has already reduced its children’s clothing inventory by 33% since this time last year.

How are retailers handling the heat?

In addition to its yearly back-to-college sales push, Bed Bath & Beyond is cutting prices on household goods. As WSJ points out, the chain has created a “one-stop college shop” near store entrances so shoppers can grab what they need and go without spending too much time in enclosed spaces.

Staples is doubling down on cleaning supplies and protective safety gear. J.C. Penney, which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection back in May, is selling masks.

Big box retailers with a wide range of offerings are best positioned for this unusual back-to-school season, along with the rest of this year from hell.

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