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Analysis: Walmart among retailers bracing for tumultuous back-to-school season

A Deloitte survey of 1,200 U.S. parents in July found they plan to spend 18% less on apparel and 28% more on technology.

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Major retailers in the U.S. are aggressively discounting back-to-school backpacks and uniforms and airing new advertisements featuring students happily taking classes at home. Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay.
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As more school districts roll back their reopening plans to curb the spread of coronavirus, major retailers in the United States are aggressively discounting back-to-school backpacks and uniforms and airing new advertisements featuring students happily taking classes at home.

Walmart, which created a mask section in its "back to school clothing" department online, has begun airing a commercial showing a boy attending school, alone, in a mask one day, then taking class online in his bedroom the next day. Another ad shows a mom packing up a backpack with school supplies for her daughter to use while performing a chemistry experiment in the backyard.

Schools in Los Angeles and San Diego – California's two largest public-school districts - are set to resume classes online only in August.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan for reopening schools in September with a "blended learning" schedule that would have students alternating between classrooms and their homes.

U.S. laptop sales may boom as parents anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic will keep at least some classes online, retailers say, citing survey data. But spending on clothing is likely to take a hit. A Deloitte survey of 1,200 U.S. parents in July found they plan to spend 18% less on apparel and 28% more on technology.

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Alycia Zimmerman, 38, a Brooklyn, N.Y., mother of a 3- and a 5-year-old, said she intends to buy fewer outfits for her kids this fall. “There will be a lot of time spent at home when I don’t care if they’re wearing the same thing four days in a row - and they don’t have to look presentable,” she said.

Several retailers -- from department store operators Macy’s, Nordstrom to discount stores like Ross Stores -- canceled summer orders from suppliers at the onset of COVID-19.

To better manage inventory, Jane Elfers, chief executive of Children’s Place said on a June 11 earnings call that the Secaucus, N.J.-based company had invested in services like ship-from-store.

Several American makers of uniforms applied for aid from the United States Paycheck Protection Program, which injected about $521.4 billion in taxpayer cash to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Portland, Ore.-based Dennis Uniform and Philadelphia-based Flynn and Ohara Uniforms, for instance, were given between $2 and $5 million, according to data released by the Trump Administration. The companies were not immediately available for comment.

Roger Spatz, president of JanSport and Eagle Creek backpack brands, both owned by VF Corp, said "demand is hyper-dynamic as COVID-19 surges in some states and contracts in others during the key back-to-school selling months."

Kipling America, another VF Corp backpack line, is pitching its backpacks for home use. "In the past, we might have led with great images of 'in your school' environment," the company's marketing director Priscilla Mera Serrano told Reuters. "But now we're leading with content and images of setting yourself up at home and how to get yourself organized."

Related Topics: EDUCATIONRETAIL
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