Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A woman shops for back to school supplies at a Walmart store in San Diego, on Aug. 6, 2015.

Reuters Photographer/Reuters

As more school districts roll back their reopening plans to curb the spread of coronavirus, major retailers in the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom are aggressively discounting back-to-school backpacks and uniforms and airing new advertisements featuring students happily taking classes at home.

In the U.K., Marks & Spencer PLC – a market leader – is offering deeply discounted merchandise, including 25-per-cent off across the entire school uniform range and free delivery for orders over £50 ($102). Lands’ End Inc. will offer shoppers 60-per-cent off all backpacks Monday and Tuesday.

Walmart Inc., which created a mask section in its “back to school clothing” department online, has begun airing a commercial showing a boy attending school, alone, in a mask one day, then taking class online in his bedroom the next day. Another ad shows a mom packing up a backpack with school supplies for her daughter to use while performing a chemistry experiment in the backyard.

Story continues below advertisement

In Europe, retailers would normally expect increased traffic for at least a week in August depending on when schools reopen, according to Sensormatic Solutions.

But shopper footfall in June and July was down substantially this year – by 60 per cent in Britain, 50 per cent in Spain, Italy and France and more than 30 per cent in Germany. That could spell trouble for retailers where back-to-school is a key sales driver on par with Christmas, according to Thomas Schnabel of the German retailer association HBS.

In Germany, parents tend to start buying just before summer holidays and throughout August, Mr. Schnabel said, highlighting how it was lucky lockdowns lifted when they did as he doubted back-to-school sales would transfer easily online. “People want to try the pens and feel the fit and the fabric of rucksacks,” Schnabel said.

In England, all children are expected to return to school in September, while schools in Los Angeles and San Diego – California’s two largest public-school districts – are set to resume classes online only in August.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan for reopening schools in September with a “blended learning” schedule that would have students alternating between classrooms and their homes.

U.S. laptop sales may boom as parents anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic will keep at least some classes online, retailers say, citing survey data. But spending on clothing is likely to take a hit. A Deloitte survey of 1,200 U.S. parents in July found they plan to spend 18-per-cent less on apparel and 28-per-cent more on technology.

Alycia Zimmerman, 38, a Brooklyn, N.Y., mother of a 3- and a 5-year-old, said she intends to buy fewer outfits for her kids this fall. “There will be a lot of time spent at home when I don’t care if they’re wearing the same thing four days in a row – and they don’t have to look presentable,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

Several retailers – from department-store operators Macy’s Inc., Nordstrom Inc. to discount stores such as Ross Stores Inc. – cancelled summer orders from suppliers at the onset of COVID-19.

To better manage inventory, Jane Elfers, chief executive of Children’s Place Inc., said on a June 11 earnings call that the Secaucus, N.J.-based company had invested in services like ship-from-store.

In the U.K., retail executives expect parents to make fewer shopping trips, to fewer retailers. Most schools have a uniform requirement, and generally, there’s a compulsory product – a crested blazer, special tie, a games jersey available only at a particular supplier, while parents can get generic products like a white shirt or black trousers from anywhere, including Marks and Spencer.

“Parents who have to go to a store to go and buy that blazer and tie are then saying, ‘let me by my trousers and my shirts from here because I don’t want to go to another store,’ ” said Mark Stevenson, co-chair of the Schoolwear Association, a U.K. group that represents uniform manufacturers.

Marks and Spencer said Monday it would cut 950 jobs as part of a store management revamp.

Several American makers of uniforms applied for aid from the United States Paycheck Protection Program, which injected about US$521.4-billion in taxpayer cash to businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Story continues below advertisement

Portland, Ore.-based Dennis Uniform and Philadelphia-based Flynn and Ohara Uniforms, for instance, were given between $2- and US$5-million, according to data released by the Trump Administration. The companies were not immediately available for comment.

Roger Spatz, president of JanSport and Eagle Creek backpack brands, both owned by VF Corp., said “demand is hyper-dynamic as COVID-19 surges in some states and contracts in others during the key back-to-school selling months.”

Kipling America, another VF Corp. backpack line, is pitching its backpacks for home use. “In the past, we might have led with great images of ‘in your school’ environment,” the company’s marketing director Priscilla Mera Serrano told Reuters. “But now we’re leading with content and images of setting yourself up at home and how to get yourself organized.”

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies