The end of July is typically filled with children striving to enjoy the last days of summer vacation. Meanwhile, parents are sent scrambling to make sure their child has checked everything off their school supplies list. Retailers often spend their time stocking isles with everything from glue to colored pencils as they gear up for the beginning of a shopping season that will carry them all the way to Christmas. 2020 has no time for such frivolities; we are still grappling with the question: will kids even be in school?

Schools will be open this fall but we still don’t know who, if anyone, will actually be sitting in those seats. Answers seem to change depending on who you ask and where you ask them. Uncertainty is the real problem here as a lack of a uniform answer has left students, teachers, and retailers waiting for the first shoe to drop. Further complicating this issue is the disparity between the supplies that students will need in the classroom versus remote learning. The retailers that students and teachers would normally purchase from must quickly decide which products will be most valuable and how to get those goods to consumers. Even if a uniform decision is not reached for the fall school year there are indications that at least part of the learning experience will be done remotely.

Savvy retailers have made a habit of pivoting quickly during this pandemic and the questions around education have sent them back into their bag of tricks to prevail. Best Buy was one of the earliest adopters of contactless curbside pickup and they have launched a hub on their website designed around finding the perfect computer set-up for every student. Similarly, Bed Bath & Beyond have pushed their technology products and even positioned goods aimed at college students near the front entrance in their store plans. Apparel retailers, like Macy’s and American Eagle Outfitters, who count on students wanting to display the latest fashion trends have begun carrying leggings and pajamas in their back to school ads. These stark changes to the traditional back to school consumer experience will hopefully jumpstart one the most important shopping seasons of the year.

The lack of communication around the fall school year is disheartening, but it is also an opportunity for us to display classic American ingenuity. COVID-19 took everyone by surprise, but that no longer has to be the case. CSG has been observing the industry impact since March and the one constant amongst all the upheaval is that we must meet challenges and not wait of their arrival.