Back-to-school spending up, digital learning tools replacing traditional school supplies, survey says


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Back-to-school spending is projected to rise by 16% this year compared to 2020, reaching USD 32.5 billion, and digital learning tools are replacing traditional school supplies, driving the sales for technology-based products for students up 37% YoY, according to Deloitte 2021 back-to-school survey. For buying school-related technology products, 49% of participants consider online stores as first option, and 41% are planning to visit discount retailers.

Consumer sentiment has improved this year, as 45% of respondents expect economy to improve in the next six months (compared to 23% in 2020), 55% are more confident about the economy’s prospects compared to the end of last year (versus 17% in 2020), and 78% have a similar or better household financial situation than last year (71% in 2020). In this context, school spending is projected to reach an average of USD 612 per child (up from USD 529 per child in 2020). Overall, 40% of households expect to spend more on back-to-school items than the previous year.

Around 31% of those who purchase tech items plan to buy computers and hardware (up from 22% in 2020), while 37% intend to purchase electronic gadgets (24% in 2020). At the same time, 44% plan to purchase fewer traditional back-to-school supplies because their children are using more digital technologies in and out of the classroom. Even if schools open physically, 58% of respondents are considering buying online learning resources (up from 51% in 2020).

By category of technology products, most of the spending will go to electronics (USD 5.9 billion, 47% more than in 2020) and computers and hardware (USD 5.9 billion, 20% above the amount spent a year ago).

„School-related expenses have also increased significantly in Romania during the pandemic, as most of the parents have had to buy IT equipment for online education. Based on this and on the investments made by companies and public institutions to ensure remote work solutions, the local IT&C market had an increase of over 20% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to official data. In addition, as the digitalisation process is likely to continue at the level of the whole society, accelerated growth rates on this market are expected at least for the next three to four years,” said Raluca Baldea, Tax Partner, Deloitte Romania, and Leader of the Retail and Consumer Goods Industry.

According to the study, mass merchants remain preferred source for purchasing school products, but are losing ground to online stores – 43% prefer to buy from stores, and 39% online. Compared to 2020, the change is negligible, but the difference increases if we refer to 2019, when 56% of shoppers preferred the physical store and only 29%, online shopping.

Even as the economy begins to reopen, online shopping habits seem to persist. With retailers offering more tech-enabled shopping tools, consumers begin to adopt shopping experiences using voice assistants, digital wallets, “buy” buttons on social media posts, virtual reality etc., while 44% of respondents plan to use at least one of these technologies over the coming period (up from 26% in 2020).

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