Safety, not pens and paper, is top of mind for parents and teachers this back-to-school shopping season as students prepare to resume learning in an environment reshaped by COVID-19, a new survey by supercenter retailer Meijer finds.
Of 1,200 parents and teachers polled in July, 70% of parents said they expect to buy personal protection equipment — such as face masks, sanitizer and wipes — this back-to-school season, up from 2% who planned to purchase these items last year, Meijer said Tuesday. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer said it’s helping teachers adjust by adding face masks and hand sanitizers to its annual 15%-off teacher discount.
Meanwhile, 30% of teachers surveyed plan to buy electronic items to set up virtual learning in their homes. Meijer said that, in the coming weeks, it expects further increases in teachers’ electronics purchases, including such products as wireless routers, mice, keyboards and headphones. Many parents already bought tablets and other items for their students during the previous school year, Meijer noted.
With the rise in distance learning, white boards and markers also are expected to be a more common purchase for this school year. Meijer said it expects to sell more than 200,000 white boards for teachers and students.
Home workspace spending stands to rise as well. Parents plan to spend less on locker decor, backpacks, apparel and shoes for the start of the school year, but they anticipate spending as much as $300 for bedroom and student workspace décor, up 66% from last year, Meijer reported. Similarly, teachers are slated to raise spending for PPE while lowering spending on materials for bulletin boards and classroom décor.
Meijer’s survey also revealed that the single greatest shift among teachers this year is the realization that shared supplies used by multiple students are out.
“While price is always an important factor in shopping decisions, there are definitely new normals when it comes to how customers are checking items off their lists for the upcoming school year,” Brandon Pasch, director of back-to-school merchandising at Meijer, said in a statement. “We are seeing more customers mention the efforts we make regarding safety as they focus on the items most necessary as potential learning plans are determined by schools.”
Nine out of 10 parents also deem safety measures as a key factor when deciding which store to shop for back-to-school needs, according to Meijer. In fact, the survey found that this year parents are less inclined to bring their kids — especially young children — along for back-to-school shopping.
“I’ve always been the type of mom who focuses on my pocketbook, especially for school supplies,” Chicagoan Sharon Glovier told Meijer. “This year, I decided we are only shopping at stores that are highly sanitizing their carts and keeping public areas clean. Finding a deal for everything or saving a few dollars isn’t more important than being careful for my kids.”
To address safety concerns about in-store shopping, Meijer said its physical locations have added their selection online, enabling children to take part in back-to-school purchasing. Items are available via Meijer Home Delivery and Pickup, which the retailer noted have seen rising use. Since last year, customers have used home delivery and curbside pickup 550% more as part of their online shopping, according to Meijer’s survey. The chain is now offering teachers an online coupon via its mPerks rewards program, in which they can get $10 off their order and free delivery or pickup with the offer code for one online shopping trip through Sept. 6.
Meijer found that back-to-school shopping got an earlier start this year. Twenty percent of parents and teachers polled said they began shopping earlier than last year. The retailer said the past three years have seen shopping increase after mid-August, but more than 60% are now buying basics and essential supplies that may have limited availability amid the expected last-minute shopping rush.
At the same time, more than a third of parents and teachers are awaiting learning plans from schools and holding off on back-to-school purchases until they get a better idea of how the school year will proceed.
More than 80% of parents and teachers expect the new normal for students to include virtual and in-person learning. As a result, they are keeping their school supply lists open and plan to adjust, refill and update their supplies multiple times in the coming months.
“We anticipate the back-to-school shopping season extending well beyond normal, as parents and teachers adjust to new developments in their learning plans,” added Pasch. “As a retailer, we are focused on doing our part to offer selection and shopping solutions to help them through these next few weeks and beyond.”
Overall, Meijer operates 253 supercenters and grocery stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.