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Technology replacing the traditional back-to-school needs, study shows

Trapper Keepers, pencils, scissors and other traditional school supplies might be left on the shelves this fall. A new study from Deloitte  shows parents will spend less on the basics this year.  (Photo courtesy KSL-TV.)

Trapper Keepers, pencils, scissors and other traditional school supplies might be left on the shelves this fall. A new study from Deloitte  shows parents will spend less on the basics this year. 

Over 90% of families report they will spend an average of $102 on school supplies, according to the study, which is a 10% decrease. Families will spend an average of $261 on back-to-school clothing purchases, falling 13%. 

On the other hand, technology that is used for remote learning — like computers and hardware — is up 38%, with families spending an average of $395.

While that’s a big figure, the number of people buying the tech is less than a quarter of those who are buying supplies and clothes.  So, overall spending on back-to-school stuff is down. 

This reflects the larger trend of parents coming to terms with the online components of school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dave Davis, president and CEO of the Utah Retail Merchants Association. 

“It explains what’s going on with the school supplies,” Davis said. “Traditional school supplies […] people aren’t buying as much of those.  They are really gearing up for some type of online experience for their kids.  [Those that can afford it are buying] computers, webcams, and things of that nature.”

For retailers, Davis said the market for traditional supplies is a “volume game.” 

“Typically you see greater volumes in purchases in paper, pencils, notebooks,” he said. “And so I think there is just uncertainty among parents.  They’re asking, ‘Are [my kids] going to need that 3-ring binder and set of sharpie pens?'” 

Most families are holding off on buying school supplies to wait and see what happens, Davis said. However, he is hopeful. 

Davis said he thinks school supply sales will rebound later in the buying season. 

“[The Retail Merchants Association] is anticipating some of those things are coming later in the cycle than they normally would,” he said. 

The Deloitte study does show that there is a new category of spending:  COVID Health.  About 60% of households are buying $61 worth of masks, hand sanitizer, etc., this year.