What do we know about consumer habits during back-to-school shopping season?

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

School supplies. (WTOP/Anne Kramer)

What to know about back-to-school shopping trends

What it is: The first day of school is quickly approaching in the D.C. region, with some students in parts of Virginia already back in the classroom.

Shopping could be on the agenda for students and their families in the final days of summer break.

While in-person classes are set to resume for the second straight year, after the pandemic prompted classes to be taught online, this back-to-shopping season isn’t quite normal.

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Inflation is top of mind for shoppers, according to back-to-school surveys from Jones Lang LaSalle and Deloitte published last month.

More than half the parents in the Jones Lang LaSalle survey said they were planning to cut back on spending because of rising prices.

Some families are also buying fewer products, the survey found, and focused instead on reusing some school materials and only purchasing necessities.

Still, though, parents said they planned to spend about 5% more on back-to-school shopping than they did last year, the JLL report found.

Most parents said they planned to begin their shopping later in the summer, in July or August. JLL found that the top back-to-school shopping retailers haven’t changed. Again this year, they’re Walmart, Amazon and Target. Old Navy tends to be fourth.

Interestingly, eBay seems to have increased in popularity for back-to-school needs. Keisha Virtue, a senior retail research analyst at JLL, said that likely exemplifies one of the ways parents are trying to find deals.

The JLL survey included some 1,000 responses from parents of school-age children.

What it means: Deloitte’s back-to-school survey reported similar findings.

Three in five parents who responded to Deloitte’s survey also expressed concerns about higher back-to-school shopping prices. School shopping tends to be the second-largest spending event for parents behind the winter holidays, Deloitte found.

Despite rising costs, parents are still planning to spend, said Bryan Furman, a retail sector specialist at Deloitte. While families are reassessing priorities, they’re also spending on areas, such as sustainability and wellness, Furman said.

Half the respondents said they pick sustainable back-to-school products whenever possible, and about 36% reported spending on products or services that would assist their child’s mental health.

Tech spending is also declining, the survey found.

Regional outlook: Parents in the D.C. Metro region are spending about 40% more on back-to-school shopping than the national average, Furman said.

Over 50% of D.C.-area families said they believe prices are currently higher because of inflation, and about 30% of D.C. parents expressed a preference to buy used or refurbished items.

When reviewing responses for parents’ preferences about free and fast shipping, D.C. was 10% higher than the national average regarding the desire for faster shipping, Furman said.

The Deloitte survey included 1,200 families nationally. A separate survey featured 400 families across the D.C. Metro area.

Talking points: Virtue, with JLL, said, “Typically, we don’t ask an inflation-related question. But given what we’ve seen over the last couple of months, we knew that this is definitely going to be a factor at some level, and we wanted to explore it. So we did ask how it would affect their budgets. And definitely more than half plan to cut back their spending, at least somewhat.”

And Furman, with Deloitte, said that while families are feeling the impact of higher prices, “they’re still planning to try to put together the best … back-to-school season they can for the kids, especially after a number of years of just an amazing amount of disruption in the school system.”

Some Arlington 4th, 5th graders fell behind in literacy last school year

More fourth and fifth grade students in Arlington, Virginia, needed literacy help at the end of the last school year than at the beginning, according to school system data.

I spoke to WTOP’s Luke Garrett on the “DMV Download” podcast this week to breakdown some of the trends.

Listen to our discussion below, and read more about the literacy data online.

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

Student mental health: One in eight kids in Maryland reported experiencing anxiety or depression, according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book. An official with the Maryland Center on Economic Policy said that while mental health stress was worsened by the pandemic, it was an issue before 2020.

What Scott’s Reading

  • School buses in Anne Arundel Co. get cameras to record illegal passing [WTOP] 
  • Fairfax Co. teacher resident program helping school system overcome staffing shortage [WTOP]
  • ‘It adds up’: Out-of-pocket teacher spending hits record high [WTOP]
  • As community moves on, Magruder High students continue to cope with January shooting [Bethesda Beat]
  • Local Families Will Need To Apply For Free School Meals Again This Year [DCist]
  • New school year, same staffing woes for Prince William schools [InsideNova]
  • Email scammers bilked VCU out of nearly $470,000, U.S. officials say [The Washington Post]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

Tubing time: We’re headed to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, for a quick tubing trip. With the weather supposed to be perfect this weekend, seems like a great opportunity to be in the water!

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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