Moms more concerned about prices than safety in back-to-school shopping

A survey also finds ecomm habits developed during COVID are tough to break.

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COVID-19 has touched every facet of the economy, and back-to-school is no exception. Retail insights and research company Field Agent’s annual predictions about the shopping season show that as kids return to classrooms, it’s prices, not safety, that is top of mind for moms.

Field Agent’s report on the 2020-21 season is based on surveys with 331 Canadian moms of children entering kindergarten to grade 12 conducted earlier this month. The group was asked to rank their concerns, and 32% cited higher prices or retailers limiting their sales and discounts as their biggest issue. This was followed by being around others inside stores (24%), limited product availability (23%) and not knowing what to purchase (22%).

Regarding their probable purchases, the survey is showing year-over-year declines in staples like backpacks (down by 20%), athletic gear (down by 17%) and electronics (down by 12%). The survey believes this reveals decisions by school districts (some of which are still to come, or could change due to the “second wave” of the pandemic) are making moms hesitant about making common, even annual, back-to-school purchases in particular categories.

The number of moms planning to purchase half or more of their kids’ supplies online tripled from just 4% in 2019 to 12% this year; 78% of respondents say they expect to purchase at least some supplies online, compared to 62% last year. Amazon is the leading online brand choice by a long shot, with 82% of online buy respondents say they will purchase items there, compared to 36% who will shop online from Walmart and 29% from Staples.

But for in-store visits, the survey finds more moms plan on visiting Walmart this year compared (83%, versus 79% last year), far outpacing Costco (42%), Dollarama (39%), Staples (37%) and Loblaw’s Superstore banner (29%).

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Walmart is also the top dog for products going into packed lunches (72%), topping Costco and every major grocery banners. However, according to Field Agent, the numbers reveal less store-switching compared to last year, with every major banner seeing declines in the percentage of mom’s planning to shop there, indicating a rise of one-stop shopping.

When it comes to apparel shopping, however, old habits are hard to break: as in 2019, Walmart, Old Navy, Costco and Winners topped the list for purchases of back-to-school clothes and footwear – Amazon’s popularity as a destination for attire only rose one percentage point, and is still behind the likes of SportChek, Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, H&M and The Shoe Company.

When asked how their back to school shop will differ this year, moms report that they will be more cautious when in stores, buying face masks, sanitizer and other items to combat COVID-19, not just for themselves, but to send to school with their kids. Other safety measures include not taking kids along for shopping this year and spending less time inside stores (making quick “in and out” trips).