Coronavirus changes back-to-school shopping for parents, students

Connie Michell, a manager at the Meijer Store on Wilmington Pike, straightens the school supplies on Friday. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Connie Michell, a manager at the Meijer Store on Wilmington Pike, straightens the school supplies on Friday. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

With students returning to classes soon, back-to-school shopping looks different this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As schools and parents decide whether to return to in-person learning or handle learning virtually, some parents and students have struggled to determine what kinds of supplies they will need for classes.

The uncertainty that has surrounded the COVID-19 crisis as a whole will lead to consumers preparing for every learning situation and, therefore, spending more, according to a survey done by the National Retail Federation.

For students returning to in-person learning, supply shopping will consists of the typical items such as notebooks, pencils and pens, but this might not be the case for students taking on either a part-time or full-time remote learning model.

“Spending is expected to increase overall, but the main reason for the uptick is parents buying more electronics —which are way more expensive than backpacks— to account for an increase in remote learning,” said Terry Ohnmeis, director of Cushman & Wakefield real estate services.

School districts around the Dayton area are helping with the increased expenses in a number of ways.

The Northmont district is working with the Community Table organization to host Community Table Back to School, which provides school supplies to families who apply.

The Mad River district is holding a Day of Giving Back on Tuesday, Aug. 25, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Stebbins High School and Spinning Hills Middle School, where 1,000 backpacks full of school supplies will be handed out through curbside pickup.

The Troy district will loan a Chromebook to every student in the district for both their in-person and remote learning.

While some districts may not have made final plans regarding their in-person and remote learning yet, they have provided supply lists that reflect what was needed in previous years that can be found on their websites.

Even though these lists may not look all that different, the sharing of supplies within the classrooms is something schools will be paying close attention to in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We do not ask students to share supplies,” said David Fong, director of communication for Troy City Schools. “There may be some teachers who have ‘community’ supplies, obviously, we will have to take a look at either ending that practice and engaging in increased sanitation practices.”

Jenny Alexander, communications director for Mad River Local Schools, discussed the fluidity of plans during these uncertain times and stressed the importance of having access to high-speed internet as well as supplies for some at-home projects and assignments for remote learning.

Parents and students should be aware of the annual Ohio sales tax holiday happening from noon August 7 to 11:59 p.m. August 9. During that weekend, an item of clothing priced at $75 or less, an item of school supplies priced at $20 or less and an item of school instructional material priced at $20 or less will be exempt from sales and use tax.

Based on the NRF survey responses, consumers will look to purchase more of their supplies online amid the pandemic, so online shopping should see an increase.

When people do go into stores to shop for their supplies, Ohnmeis says big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target will benefit the most. This is because these stores were deemed essential due to their grocery sections and have been able to remain open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They have also been proactive about requiring masks nation-wide,” Ohnmeis said. “Where that may impact back-to-school shopping is simply that the shopping experience is more known and familiar to customers, while more specialty and mall retailers are only just beginning to reopen.”

When it comes down to it, Ohnmeis believes retailers who are selling the products that parents and students are in need of will be successful.