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After more than a year of online learning, I know many students and parents — my kids and I included — are clamoring for the return to in-person classes. And they’re not the only ones. In North America, more than half of students expect to return to in-class learning this year.1

However, the annual back-to-school shopping season likely won’t bring a return of pre-pandemic rituals. So what specific behavior changes should you be ready for? Based on our research and Google-only insights, here are the back-to-school trends that are likely to be different this season.

What they’re buying: paper, pencils, and PPE — for the right price

This year’s back-to-school shopping lists are changing because in-person schooling will likely be different from before. What tops the shopping list? Predictably, more than half of North American back-to-school shoppers intend to buy school supplies like pens, pencils, and stationery, while 44% plan to buy clothing, apparel, and footwear. But, as a sign of the times, more than a third plan to buy health and safety supplies, like masks and hand sanitizers.2

71% of U.S. shoppers are willing to wait over two weeks to buy something if they want to take advantage of a sale, deal, or promotion.

With shopping lists spanning the full gamut of categories, from uniforms and electronics to notebooks and three-ring binders, it’s no surprise that price, deals, and promotions are important to 68% of back-to-school shoppers.3 Competitive prices, deals, and promotions persist as the primary purchase triggers.

And shoppers will hold their shopping cart transactions in hopes of a better deal, with 71% of U.S. shoppers willing to wait over two weeks to buy something if they want to take advantage of a sale, deal, or promotion.4

To give your customers the deals they desire, check your price competitiveness to see how other retailers are pricing the same products you sell, and factor that into your pricing and merchandising strategy. Also, keep tabs on Rising Retail Categories to help you stay on track with how this evolves as school shopping heats up.

How they’re buying: counting on convenience

Following a year of sporadic shortages of grocery items and consumer goods coupled with the excitement for a new, in-person school term, shoppers want certainty that they’ll get what they want.

48% of North American back-to-school shoppers will shop at stores that offer curbside pickup or contactless shipping.

We see that more than 50% of North American back-to-school shoppers say they’ll check for in-store inventory online before going into a store and 48% will shop at stores that offer curbside pickup or contactless shipping.5 Retailers who offer digital glimpses into their physical stores provide the reassurance and confidence that shoppers need to commit to purchasing. You can promote products that are available for nearby customers to pickup in-store or via curbside pickup using local inventory ads.

Choice is key. Back-to-school shoppers intend to shop at both small businesses and large format stores, where 60% of back-to-school shoppers plan to do at least a portion of their shopping at a small business this year.6 Local campaigns are simple yet powerful solutions for retailers of all sizes to promote their locations and drive store traffic across Google Maps, Search, YouTube, and Display.

Looking to make it easier to reach these increasingly digital-first shoppers? Omnichannel bidding can help you capture the full value of your back-to-school marketing efforts across channels. Adding store visits to your Smart Bidding strategy allows you to optimize for total sales, whether they happen online or in your stores.

As we look ahead, we’re hopefully on the brink of comebacks — school, openings, in-person gatherings, and, most importantly, economic recovery. We’re here to help you stay agile, connect with shoppers across the journeys, and capture the comeback ahead of the holidays together.