The back-to-school shopping season, second only to the holiday season in terms of consumer spending, has been thrown into uncertainty bordering on chaos as parents and retailers do their best to plan for what school will look like in the coming weeks.
Set against the backdrop of a highly contagious viral pandemic and the devastation it has woven across the US economy, 2020’s back-to-school season is unlike any other.
“It’s the most challenging time in history for back to school,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a consumer consulting firm in New York City.
The back-to-school season is “a critical catalyst that the country needs for an economic comeback whether it’s Wisconsin, the Great Lakes region or anywhere across America,” Flickinger added.
Whether back to school ultimately serves as a jump-start to a pandemic-ravaged economy remains to be seen.
“What retailers have to do is understand the downdraft of back to school and catch the updraft of selling more goods related to living, learning and working from home,” Flickinger added. Still, the best anyone can do at this point is make an educated guess.
“Most parents don’t know whether their children will be sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer in the dining room, or a combination of the two,” Matthew Shay, president and chief executive of the National Retail Federation, said in a statement.
It’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen.
“How do you forecast who needs new jeans or sneakers to wear to school and who doesn’t because they are going to be staying at home?” said Dick Seesel, principal at the Mequon consulting firm Retailing in Focus and a former retail industry executive. “Do they still need school supplies if they are studying at home? Maybe. But do they need backpacks? Maybe not…” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel