In our post-pandemic world, what does back to school mean? Is it synonymous with logging back into Zoom classes after a much-needed summer break or will it be returning to a socially distant classroom?
Last year, the back to school season was marked by delayed reopenings and remote or hybrid learning situations for many. With COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and a slow decline of infection rates, this year’s return may be the first characterized by an entirely in-person school year.
As brands and retailers gear up for this upcoming return to normalcy, it’s important to remember that this back to school season is one of new beginnings. As of February 2021, there are 159,000 average weekly searches for back to school, +9% to last year. Searches are losing momentum, but demand for back to school essentials will accelerate in July and peak in August.
Much like the shift in search behavior, back to school product assortments are evolving. Gap and Old Navy are replacing school uniforms with playground-friendly face masks printed with kids’ favorite characters. Target has replaced their school clothing page with an at-home learning essentials page. Here, they list school supplies alongside face masks and at-home learning inspirations. Dry-erase boards and science kits help turn consumers’ homes into classrooms to keep up with remote learning demands. Interest in kid’s loungewear will carry into this year’s back to school season. There are 112,000 average weekly searches for the term, and demand is expected to continue growing over the next six months with 90% confidence.
With each state taking its own approach to reopening schools, parents and retailers will turn to the Return to Learn Tracker, a website that monitors over 8,000 public school districts’ statuses across the country, to make sense of the times. For the first time since schools shuttered, the percentage of fully remote districts is in the single digits. As of March 15, 9% of districts are fully remote, and 37% are entirely in-person, leaving 54% of districts offering hybrid instruction.
From sanitizing wands to Mickey Mouse face masks, here’s what the 2021 back to school season has in store.
From tech tools to classroom essentials like dry erase boards, the home has turned into a learning zone due to remote learning (+885% to LY). When it comes to connecting to class, kids laptops (+44% to LY) and kids headphones (-2% to LY) are top of mind, each garnering 22,700 and 56,400 AWS, respectively. Parents are looking to turn their living rooms into classrooms as they search for staples from doodle maps to two-in-one dry erase boards to keep their kiddos focused.
Searches for back to school style down 20% and consumer spending is going to more than just notebooks. As a result, brands are designing versatile staples that work for the virtual classroom and socially distanced recess. Dominating the back to school assortment, kids loungewear (+122% to LY) and comfortable denim, like girls baggy jeans (+229% to LY), are replacing kids uniforms (-13% to LY). Brands like Athleta Girl are offering girls versatile activewear styles like dry-wicking rompers.
The 2021 back to school season may be the closest to “normal” that parents and students have experienced in a while. Retailers are hopeful about the return to normalcy, designing collections full of optimistic graphics and colorful prints. Old Navy is dressing students in comfort-first loungewear paired with inspirational t-shirts(+87% to LY). Rockets of Awesome is relying on rainbow tie dye (+107% to LY), quarantine’s most significant trend, to keep kids smiling as they return.
With the return to classrooms on the horizon, parents are equipping their kids with all the essentials needed to stay safe. Kid-friendly masks printed with Marvel superheroes and Disney princesses are making mask-wearing an exciting event. UV sanitizing wands (+715% to LY) have increased in popularity, while brands like Crayola are looking to make safety staples like hand sanitizer (+13% to LY) more kid-centric, designing sanitizer bottles that match their signature branding.
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