Bread, Not Chocolate: Parents Are Focusing On Basic Back-To-School Needs

Email teams are wondering how parents plan to shop now that their kids are turning to classrooms after more than a year at home. 

Here’s a clue: Perhaps buoyed by the new child tax credits, families plan to spend between $250 and $500 on back-to-school items this year. But they expect discounts, judging by Rakuten’s 2021 Back-to-School Shopping Survey, released on Thursday.  

For instance, 75% are seeking breaks for such products as clothes (29%) and electronics for college students in the family (25%). Moreover, almost 20% of parents are turning to curated sites, apps or browser extensions to find deals, rewards and discounts. 

What are they buying? Basic items including: 

  • Backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils — 27%
  • Clothing — 24%
  • Cleanliness items — 23%



Rakuten speculates that school supplies needed to be replaced, and that clothing has been outgrown. The focus on cleanliness items may be due to the fact that people are still nervous about the pandemic, although that category has fallen from first place last year.  

But people are eager to return to stores — 89% will do at least shopping there, and 60% are very comfortable doing so. But they want incentives, with 23% saying they want Cash Back. 

And 33% are more comfortable in stores with safety precautions such as mask requirements, hand sanitizer and contactless payment options.

All this is in line with a survey released earlier this week by Mulberry. It found that parents will be buying clothing and supplies more than high-tech items — and this comes as child tax credit payments totaling $15 billion are arriving.  

Rakuten says the return to school requires a recalibration. 

"We expect parents to make up for lost time after a year in quarantine, creating optimal conditions for marketers to influence consumers,” says Rakuten Americas CEO Amit Patel.  

Indeed, the survey shows “the leading ways to do this is through advertising, trusted social media influencers, and discounts and rewards that give consumers confidence they have found a great deal," Patel says.

That includes email — with proper attention given to changing conditions.

For instance, some locales returned to school earlier than others. And brands should be wary of offending families that have been hit by COVID-19, a situation that will not be (or shouldn’t be) apparent through behavior-based personalization.     

Rakuten surveyed 1,000 parents of U.S. grade school, high school and college students.

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