Back-to-School: For Brands and Retailers, It's 'A Year Like No Other'

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Brands and retailers that depend heavily on the back-to-school shopping season are facing an unprecedented challenge: how to advertise to families who don't know if their children will be educated in classrooms or at home in the fall.

According to Lisa Rosenberg, president of consumer brands at global communications agency Allison+Partners, back-to-school marketing is traditionally a piece of cake. But 2020 is a whole new ballgame.

"Whereas many brands in the past would have had their back-to-school promotions and campaigns sort of locked in place back in May because back-to-school shopping would start in the latter part of July, we’re just not seeing that," said Rosenberg.

"Brands don’t want to appear tone deaf. And so there's much more wait-and-see," she added.

In 2019, the back-to-school shopping season did $80 billion in sales. In 2020, families still plan to spend about the same amount, but the products they're spending on will differ dramatically in some cases from years prior. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte in June, planned spending in the computer hardware category was up 38% year-over-year, whereas apparel dropped by 14%.

“What we’ve seen is a move from apparel and traditional school supplies to computer hardware and electronic gadgets," said Rod Sides, a vice chairman of retail and distribution at Deloitte.

Experts that TheStreet spoke with say brands and retailers will perform best in this unusual and unprecedented shopping period if they emphasize online shopping, create opportunities for safe contactless pickup, and listen carefully to their consumer's needs and requests.

"Those retailers that really pivot their marketing strategies to be in sync with how consumers are thinking and behaving are really going to come out on top," said Rosenberg.

Watch the video above to learn more about how brands are navigating the uncertainty of back-to-school amid the pandemic.

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