Kids may be more pumped for the back-to-school season than ever before. But even as families stock up on new sneakers, backpacks and glue sticks, they are wrestling with financial realities that may prove challenging for mid-tier and discount retailers.
The economic recovery is in full swing for many Americans, with Deloitte predicting that will translate into an average back-to-school spending of $612 per K-through-12 student That’s up from about $529 per student last year.
But for families in lower middle-class and those already in poverty, the reality is different. For those groups in trouble since the pandemic, food insecurity is up sharply: Feeding America estimates that this year, an estimated 17 million kids will go hungry at some point, the highest number in decades. And one in five children in the U.S. now live below the poverty line.
The exodus of women from the workforce is increasing, further pressuring family budgets, presenting a challenge for retailers pushing new clothes, school supplies and tech offerings.
So while ad messages focus on the shopping jubilation of most schools fully reopening, there's an undercurrent of concern. In a first-of-its-kind partnership, for example, Target, Walmart, regional grocery chain HEB and Shipt are working with Ibotta, the mobile rewards program, to give every kid in America some back-to-school supplies for free.
The care package, accessed via the Ibotta app, includes a notebook from Five Star, Ticonderoga pencils, Paper Mate erasers and Kleenex. But it also includes Skippy peanut butter, Smuckers jelly and a loaf of Nature's Own Bread, in a nod to the growing problem of childhood hunger.
(Last Thanksgiving, Ibotta worked with Walmart to give away some 3 million Thanksgiving dinners.)
Target is touting its "extra-affordable back-to-school looks."
After a complicated 2020, "we know this year will be met with great enthusiasm from our guests as they prepare for a new school year, and we're ready to meet every family's needs," says Jill Sando, its executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, in its announcement. "Target is prepared to help our guests with everything they need for the season — with the best assortment, shopping experience and value all in one convenient click or trip."
This year, the Minneapolis-based company is pricing almost everything in the back-to-school collection at less than $10, including 50-cent notebooks and $4 dorm pillows and $8 jeans.
It's sending some love to teachers, too, with a 15% discount on essential classroom supplies.
Kohl’s, which is also targeting teachers with special “Thank you” discounts, is offering shoppers the kind of savings it typically provides during the holidays. Customers earn $10 in Kohl's Cash for every $50 spent.
The Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based retailer says it expects kids to clamor for casual looks that include athleisure and denim, as well as footwear.
Walmart’s is also focused on promotional offers. And it’s also hoping the new school year will build the retailer’s affordable fashion cred with young girls. It's adding a new collection from Justice, the once-beloved tween brand. (Parent company Ascena Retail Group filed for bankruptcy last year.)
The line includes some 140 items, spanning clothing, jewelry, stationary, bedding and tech accessories.