The Evolution Of Back-To-School Shopping

stacey gorman
Stacey Gorman,
Memphis Tennessee

Growing up in a small town in Southeast Arkansas, I always looked forward to the arrival of August. This meant it was time for one of my favorite traditions — driving to Little Rock and visiting the mall for back-to-school shopping.

I loved everything about it. Searching the crowded stores for the perfect, first-day-of-school outfit, going up and down the escalators, hitting up the food court, and carrying all of those shopping bags made for the perfect escape from small-town life.

Fast-forward to August 2020. The mall scene of yesteryear is now a stark contrast to what I would see if I went to a mall today. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed many malls, and the number of customers allowed in retail stores is limited. All the while, questions loom about what going back to school will even look like for students across the nation.

Back-to-school shopping is usually the second highest apparel-buying season for consumers, only behind holiday shopping. Last year, back-to-school spending was expected to reach nearly $83 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Dark Times And Bright Spots

However, like so many other aspects of life in the midst of a pandemic, the 2020 back-to-school shopping season will likely be like none we have experienced before.

There are plenty of news stories about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected brands and retailers, and they do not paint a pretty picture. There have been store closures, bankruptcies, furloughs and a reduction in consumer spending like never before.
However, if you look closely enough, a few bright spots emerge from all the gloom.

back to school shoppingSome shutdown behaviors, such as how people shop, how they pick up their purchases and even how they pay, might serve as lessons for retailers as consumers slowly begin to navigate shopping in a COVID-19 world.

For starters, consumers have come to truly embrace e-commerce. A majority of them (63%) say they “discovered new ways to shop” during this period, according to a Cotton Incorporated 2020 Coronavirus Response Survey*. Close to half of all consumers (44%) are shopping online more than before the pandemic.

‘Shop Cotton’ Is Born

Cotton Incorporated has taken note. “Staying comfortable in your clothes is always important — but never more so than right now. Whether students are preparing to go back into a classroom setting or will be learning from home in a virtual classroom, cotton clothing can make this trying time a little more comfortable,” says Kim Kitchings, vice president of consumer marketing at Cotton Incorporated.

To make shopping for cotton easier for consumers, Cotton Incorporated has a “Shop Cotton” section on Seekers of this fabric can browse through specially curated items for children, women and men. They may also shop for home goods.

The featured items span a wide range of styles, brands and price-points to make sure there is something for everyone. The section also features cotton non-medical face masks for adults and children, just in time for the back-to-school season.

Out of crisis comes change, but people do not abandon things that are familiar and provide comfort. It just means they tend to evolve. For me, this year’s back-to-school shopping for my children will mean shopping online via Shop Cotton rather than making a day-long trip to the mall.

And who knows, maybe I will even look up a recipe so we can make our own “food court” style soft pretzels. I wonder if I’ll get bonus points if I find one that calls for cottonseed oil.

Stacey Gorman is The Cotton Board’s director of communications. Contact her at

*Cotton Incorporated’s COVID-19 Consumer Response Survey, a survey of 500 U.S. consumers conducted April 27 (Wave 2).

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