Parents are gearing up for students to head back to in-person learning in the coming days and weeks. Some, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. How the school year will play out is anyone’s guess as re-emerging pandemic concerns linger in the background. But for now, parents are spending early and big – more than ever before – to get their children back to the classroom.

Back-to-school spending for K-12 is expected to reach $32.5 billion this year –  an increase of 16% from 2020, according to Deloitte’s back-to-school survey. The supply list is most certainly more extensive this year, compared to the pandemic list when students didn’t need items such as backpacks, lunch boxes, new school clothing, general classroom supplies, etc.  As we know, 2020 was the year of learning via Google Classroom and Zoom.

Now, even while most students are expected to return to the traditional, in-person learning setting away from home, spending on tech is projected to be 37% higher than in 2020.

“Virtual learning during the pandemic catapulted student’s use of technology in 2020,” said Marc Ehrhardt, president of The Ehrhardt Group. “While some behaviors were just a temporary necessity during our days at home, the use of technology for learning is here to stay.”

In fact, 44% of survey respondents said they plan to purchase fewer traditional back-to-school supplies due to the new emphasis on tech.

Even as most students plan to head back to the classroom for in-person learning, 58% of Deloitte survey respondents said they still plan to purchase online resources for the upcoming school year.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is projecting even bigger sales this year as parents and students prepare to head to class. According to their Back-to-School 2021 survey, college students and their families will shell out $71 billion this year, up from $67.7 billion in 2020.


Maybe it was a fear of a potential shortage of supplies or maybe it was parents eager to pack those backpacks and send their kids back to the classroom after a year and half of virtual learning, but back-to-school shopping started early this year.

51% of K-12 and college shoppers started purchasing back-to-school items in early July, according to the NRF.  39% said they got a jump start to take advantage of savings through retailer promotions such as Walmart’s Deals for Days and Amazon’s Prime Day.  Tax-free weekends and the recent child tax credit payments also likely contributed to early school supply purchases.


47% of parents and students said they intend to shop mostly in stores, compared to 17% who said they plan to shop primarily online for school supplies this year, according to Morning Consult/AdWeek. This is in line with pre-pandemic levels in 2019 when 48% of respondents said they shopped in person and 18% online.

Where Consumers are Shopping in 2021 Compared to Previous Years

Consumers started shopping earlier this year, spending more, and are out and about making their purchases in-person in a pre-pandemic fashion.

“This is good news for retailers and local businesses as the back-to-school shopping season will certainly have a positive economic impact on local economies,” said Ehrhardt.

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The Gulf South Index is a cooperative project between The Ehrhardt Group, a public relations, content, issues and crisis firm, and Causeway Solutions, a nationally recognized research and data analysis company, that are both based in the Gulf South.

The Index delves into hundreds of thousands of data points to paint a better picture of how the millions of people living in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle are going about their lives. We want to find out more about how we make decisions, from what we are buying and how we are getting our news to where we plan to travel.

We cannot comment on the methodology of the surveys and research we did not conduct, which is why we do our best to link to the source articles or studies that we share here.

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