5 Retail Trends for an Unusual Back to School Season

To say that this back to school shopping season is distinct from previous years would be an understatement. With the pandemic having such a dramatic impact on the student experience, it’s only natural that brands and retailers are responding accordingly. Here are five trends that meet the new needs of parents and their children as they navigate this bizarre and uncertain semester.


Character Themed Masks

For students going back to school for in-person instruction, face masks are one of the most important tools for keeping everyone safe. While the early days of the pandemic saw consumers scrambling for medical-grade masks and making their own out of household materials, brands were catching up to meet demand by early summer. With the school season officially on the horizon (or already in session in some places), family-oriented brands like Disney, Crayola™, and Old Navy have all released mask lines featuring approachable characters. These designs feel familiar to children at a time when school feels unfamiliar and strange in its current form. Hopefully, they might help students feel more comfortable and secure in class.


A New Kind of Home Office

Some retailers have launched entirely new categories for studying at home. Bed Bath & Beyond’s “College from Home” section includes office supplies, desk lamps, and furniture, as well as interior design suggestions for incorporating a small workspace into a bedroom. While some merchandise like backpacks and binders might be on the decline this season, retailers may be able to balance their losses with the new demand for these types of products that had previously been aimed at older consumers.


Brands Help Parents Bring the Cafeteria to the Kitchen

With many students staying home during the day now, some traditional lunchbox essentials don’t necessarily fit with this new behavior. Brands like Smucker’s® are solving this problem by introducing new heat-and-eat products that fit into parents’ increasingly busy schedules without sacrificing memorable core elements of the brand.


Emphasis on Technology

Analysts are predicting that parents preparing to make big financial investments in technology for at-home instruction will make sacrifices in other areas, including clothing and school supplies. Brendan Witcher, vice president of the major research firm Forrester, stated that “you’re going to see more people sacrificing purchases for other things…maybe in the past you were exuberant about back-to-school and bought pricier notebooks and a box of 128 crayons, but now you’ll only get 16 crayons because you have to get a Chromebook.”


Discount Campaigns for Teachers – and Parent-Teachers

The brand copy around teachers has always been reverent during this time of year, but it’s reached new levels during the pandemic. Major retailers including Kroger, Target, and Meijer are all offering special promotions just for teachers, and Kroger has extended their discounts to parents who are instructing their children at home this semester.  

This is by far the strangest back to school season in recent memory. But by all accounts, retailers and brands are putting in the work to support consumers in creative and significant ways. While there is a lot of uncertainty around how this semester will go, parents have a number of reliable brands meeting their new needs as they develop.   


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