Back to school marketing in the COVID-19 era

September 2, 2020
4 min read

Lockdown has eased and schools are reopening for a new term this week. However, this year, concerns over their children’s safety will add to the increasingly costly affair back-to-school is for parents. 

Indeed, we expect COVID-19 to amplify parents’ worries  over affordability as financial resources of many have become stretched. As such parents will be looking to cash in on deals and promotions to afford everything needed ahead of a new term. We have already seen price being a key priority for a number of parents who struggle to afford everything. Indeed, data from Mintel’s latest finance tracker found that only half of parents of under-16s feel OK about their financial situation.

Here we highlight some initiatives from retailers ahead of back-to-school (BTS) in 2020 to help encourage parents spend:

Clarks offer parents free replacement shoes until February

Clarks has launched a free school shoe exchange guarantee for children heading back to school this term. The deal encourages parents to utilise the retailer’s in-store shoe fitting service and will exchange outgrown shoes that have been bought in store between July and September, free of charge  until February 2021. This is a great way to encourage in-store spend from parents.

Parents pay same price for uniforms no matter the age with Morrisons new BTS range

While Morrisons has flat-priced its entire back-to-school uniform offer for children aged up to 13, the deal guarantees that despite children growing with age, prices for the new BTS range from Nutmeg will not increase. Pricing will remain the same regardless of age.

Nutmeg’s new Back-to-school range

Source: Nutmeg/Morrisons

Asda’s sustainable back-to-school uniform

As people are expected to cut back on spending for non-essential items, initiatives that allow them to save money are likely to resonate and we expect to see behaviours relating to repurposing, recycling and reusing items to increase. These behaviours have also been closely linked to the sustainability trend as they help reduce waste. Aligning with this, Asda has launched its sustainable range of back-to -school uniforms for 2020. The retailer proves that being sustainable doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.

Asda’s sustainable back-to-school uniform

Source: George at Asda

John Lewis provides safe shopping experience for parents and kids

John Lewis is reassuring parents it is safe to shop at its stores this September. The retailer has highlighted the protective measures it has put in place for parents and children to safely have their shoes fit for the new term. This includes respecting social distancing guidelines, implementing protective screens and using specialised equipment to carry out the fitting appointment. This is likely to resonate well with parents who are anxious about shopping for back-to-school gear in stores after months in lockdown. Retailers who can help make an already stressful experience less so, will be well received.

Face coverings a part of the new uniform?

We can also expect parents particularly worried about their child’s safety to allocate some spend towards face masks and hand sanitiser for their child to use during school hours. Having anticipated  this, Sainsbury’s is selling child-friendly face masks. The masks are suitable for age two and over and are specifically designed for little faces making them comfortable to wear. They also feature a popper design that pulls apart for quick and easy removal. Children’s designs include fun prints of unicorns, dinosaurs, rainbows and stars, in pretty pastels or bright primary colours.

Sainsbury’s range of family face masks

Source: Tu Sainsbury’s

What we think

Last year the back-to-school market already saw a decline with parents cutting back on non-essentials and looking to find the best deals and discounts on shoes and uniforms, in order to afford everything for the new term. This aligns closely with Mintel trend Driver Value, which highlights how consumers are looking for more convenient and affordable options.

There is also uncertainty on how long the schools will be open which will no doubt prompt some parents to withhold spend on back-to-school items. To keep students and teachers safe, we expect a staggered return of pupils to classrooms at first. Consequently, some parents will want to allocate spend for bigger ticket items such as computer equipment in order to support learning at home.

Despite the uncertainty parents have, it is clear that retailers are making efforts to ease some of this anxiety by reassuring parents they are at hand to help with everything that is needed for a new term. More importantly, the retailers who have made conscious efforts to make the in-store shopping experience safe will be rewarded.

Emily Viberg
Emily Viberg

Emily Viberg is a Retail Analyst at Mintel. She researches and writes reports on seasonal shopping.

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