Back-to-school is not just about the kids. It’s a $50+ billion-dollar business for retailers and this year, well, it’s not looking great. With a month to go until the start of the new year, many are confused about whether kids will actually be heading back to the physical classroom. Some schools will be following  mixed model and for others, it’s 100% virtual. The parents who are sitting in the unknown category, unsure what their child’s 2020 school year looks like, won’t be opening their wallet just yet to hit up the shops.

Deloitte projects $28.1 billion will be spend on back-to-school items this year, about the same as in 2019. The National Retail Federation projects parents with children in elementary school through college will spend a combined $101.6 billion this year – up from $80.7 billion last year; slightly more positive outlook here. There are more forecasts out there on spending, but they are dire.

No matter the projection, what will fundamentally change is what we are spending the billions on; and the retailers who will be impacted. Bed Bath & Beyond – a go-to for stocking college dorms will see a hit, whereas tech stores will see an increase, with many investing in laptops, screens etc.

Deloitte’s consumer survey highlighted a new category in the back-to-school dollars 2020 breakdown; personal hygiene products and desks/tables. Clothing and accessories, it appears, will be the hardest hit.

The challenge will be how retailers respond to these changes? How can inventory shift and change depending on regional location of stores where a school might be open versus one that isn’t? The needs in that store will change. For American Eagle Outfitters, their 2020 back-to-school collection is pushing leggings and doubling down on sweats. One thing we can all agree on is that2020’s uniform is sweats.

With a less than ideal forecast for the retail sector in the coming months, the pressure will be on for holiday retail season. COVID-19 can’t take away our holiday spirit, celebrations and traditions (well let’s hope!) and retail marketers need to get it right. For advice around navigating the retail holiday season, look no further than our very own Retail HOTline.