Alas, summer is coming to an end and the dreaded arrival of back-to-school commercials and advertisements have arrived. As we rev up to go back to school, the question of where class will actually take place grows. After a global pandemic, many retailers wonder if virtual learning will be the schooling of choice or if they should be stocking their shelves with the classic back-to-school supplies. The truth is, it depends.

The state of the school supplies industry

There are many predictions of the future state of back-to-school sales. The back-to-school season is a time of new beginnings, but now consumers are more eager than ever for a fresh start after being cooped up for more than a year. On the other hand, kids are now mastering the art of typing instead of cursive and most of their learning has gone completely digital due to the global pandemic and lockdowns. 

The anticipation of getting kids back in school only grows as some parents are going back to work outside of the home, and the tolerance for digital learning slowly depletes. However, the new COVID-19  Delta variant could potentially have an impact on the reopening of schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now calling for all K-12 students to wear masks to school, with more changes likely to follow. 

Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

CDC, August 5th, 2021
Estimated Market spend

As some schools plan to open; wallets follow suit. COVID-19’s effect on back-to-school spending can be summed up in one word—digital—with parents investing more in tech supplies for their kids and continuing shopping for these gadgets online. 

For retailers, this means merchandising to a new era of schooling where traditional back-to-school supplies are fading compared to the spotlight on technology. The future is bright when it comes to spending money this year, considering the increased confidence in the economy, healthy savings accounts, and a Child Tax Credit being rolled out. 

Back-to-school stats

Increased adoption of digital education

When I was a kid, school lessons were taught on a very noisy projector that would overheat and computer labs were filled with massive Dell computers that were heavier than me (at the time). Now, there are smart screens, iPads, and personal laptops used within the classroom. And of course, there was the most recent remodel to the Zoom classroom. 

The rapid growth of cell phones, tablets, and consumer demand for personalized learning has increased the focus on digital content within the educational system. When mixed with a global pandemic, sales of traditional writing equipment and paper-based stationery such as notebooks have been majorly affected over the last couple of years. As the industry steps into an era of going digital, tech sales have increased 37% year-over-year and consumer buying behavior has changed. 

Computer labs in the early 2000s versus today’s laptop usage in classrooms.

The growing adoption of mobile devices as a preferred platform for educational content will continue to stunt the growth of the global school stationery supplies market. While price is still the main purchase driver, retailers will also have to offer e-commerce conveniences like buying online, picking up in-store, or providing a mobile app.

Hybrid home and at-school learning 

In the United Kingdom, children returned to school in March and April, and in the United States, more than half of all school districts had resumed full-time by early June, and nearly all offered at least some in-person learning. At the end of June 2021, 770 million children worldwide still weren’t going to school full time and more than 150 million kids in 19 countries did not have access to in-person schooling. They were either learning virtually or had no schooling at all.

Unfortunately, it’s possible that even when schools open back up, many kids won’t return. The United Nations cultural organization UNESCO estimated last year that around 24 million kids will drop out as a result of the pandemic—leaving a very large sales gap for the school supplies industry. 

RangeMe’s back-to-school list

One thing is for sure, whether kids will be learning from home or in the classroom, hand sanitizer will be near the top of parents’ lists. But what else can we expect to see? Below is our list of back-to-school essentials that can be found on RangeMe!

Face masks

Face Masks

Whether masks are preferred or required, depending on where you live, it never hurts to have extra stock, especially with the return of flu season lurking around the corner. Hypex Global sells large packs or disposable child-sized masks, providing an easy system for lost or destroyed masks to be replaced at school!

Hand sanitizer

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer doesn’t smell great and is one more thing to encourage kids to remember. So how can parents get kids excited about using it? Spray mist scented hand sanitizer might do the trick. Emu Spray Mist comes with bright packaging, multiple scents, and a size that fits right in your pocket. 


Parents can help avoid class shortages or trips to the teacher’s desk for tissues by stocking their kid’s backpacks with their own supply of tissues. Clean Paper Inc. provides sustainable tissue options for the classroom or family.

Hand wipes

Sanitizer Wipes

After battling a worldwide pandemic, this one is pretty self-explanatory. Conquer germs with some pocket-sized Poo-Pourri sanitizer wipes for hands, surfaces, or supplies.

Tech wipes

Tech Wipes

Our technology can get pretty grimy, especially when it is being used by multiple kids in a classroom. Care Touch USA tech wipes can help kiddos (and teachers!) properly clean their devices and keep ahead of potential contagious germs or messes.

Portable charger

Portable Charger

With the rise in technology use comes the downfall of battery life. Keeping in contact with your kid is necessary in today’s times. My Charge products can help charge devices no matter where you are!

Laptop case

Laptop Case

Encourage kids to take care of their laptops in the most fashionable way possible! Laptop cases are fun for kids and a good way to protect a (most likely expensive) investment. Case-it provides several styles and colors for kids to express their (very responsible) personalities! 

Phone case

Phone Case

Let’s face it, kids at a certain age can be destructive and messy. A University of Arizona study once found that phones carry 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Ewwwww! Ensure that daily used devices are protected from germs with an Olorusa antimicrobial phone case.


Working on digital devices sometimes calls for audio usage, and in the classroom, a lot of teachers are asking kids to come equipped with headphones for noisy days. Help them focus on their work with some HP corded headphones.

Art kit

Art Kits

Although traditional back-to-school supplies are losing popularity, the most sanitary option is to have personalized sets of supplies so there aren’t too many hands in the same basket. Plus, having your own personalized stuff is pretty darn cool when you’re a kid. Kraftic provides colorful art kits that are bound to be the talk of the classroom!

Hi there 👋
Want the inside scoop on all things CPG?

Get the latest CPG and retail insights, trends, and business best practices sent directly to your inbox, every week.