Parenting in a Pandemic

Remote learning boosts back-to-school spending

Erika Beras Aug 11, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A mother helps her home-schooled daughter learn on a laptop. Parents are buying furniture and equipment to help their kids continue their education at home. FG Trade/Getty Images
Parenting in a Pandemic

Remote learning boosts back-to-school spending

Erika Beras Aug 11, 2020
A mother helps her home-schooled daughter learn on a laptop. Parents are buying furniture and equipment to help their kids continue their education at home. FG Trade/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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According to a new study by Burbio, a data service that aggregates school and community calendars, more than half of K-12 public school students will be attending school virtually in the fall. That means parents are buying different kinds of back-to-school items as we settle in for the long — or longer — haul.

Shopping for school supplies for his kids this year? Not easy for father of three Scott Witt of Menlo Park, California. 

“It was terrible,” he said. “It was really informed by a combination of panic and uncertainty and pragmatism.”

Because he still doesn’t know if the kids’ classes will be in-person, online or a mix. This spring, when his children had to abruptly finish the school year at home, “we sort of duct-taped and band-aided a school together,” he said.

Back-to-school shopping is mirroring what parents may have bought for themselves at the start of the pandemic, said Daniel McCarthy, a marketing professor at Emory University.

“We need furniture to make sure that they’ve got a good learning environment. Where do we go? Well, wouldn’t it be convenient to have that furniture shipped to our door?” he said.

Last week, e-retailer Wayfair posted its first profit since going public, driven in part by the work-and-school-from-home situation. And Ikea has seen an uptick in sales of kids’ school furniture. 

Katherine Cullen, senior director of retail and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation, said parents are also buying laptops, tablets and other tech. 

“Families also are more likely to buy things like speakers or headphones this year,” Cullen said. “If you have multiple kids learning at home, if possibly one or more parents is also still working from home, the family does need a sense of privacy.”

With all that comes a lot of spending.

“We figured with the pandemic and with unemployment that perhaps spending would drop,” said Rod Sides, a retail analyst with Deloitte.

But Deloitte research actually found it went up by 2%. 

Father of three Scott Witt ended up buying a mix of everything — notebooks, electronics and three desks. 

“The kids now feel even with all this uncertainty going around, at least they have this sturdy place to work that is not doubling as a kitchen table,” Witt said.

The cost: $1,200 for the desks alone. 

Are you stuck at home with kids right now?

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