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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Back to school shopping looks different this year

Students are trading their first-day of school outfits for computers and other tech ahead of this 'new normal' for distance learning

SAN DIEGO — Just when we thought back-to-school shopping would take a hit due to virtual learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are pointing to a major shift in which shopping is reaching a record high.

“I usually get clothes, notebooks, a backpack and pencils, normal stuff you use to write,” said Jaylen Cohn, an elementary school student.

That list is what Cohn was used to, but times have changed.

“Now I’m shopping for computers because notebooks wouldn’t be safe," said Cohn.

Most schools are going virtual this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, spending more time at home and spending more money.

Though some thought back-to-school shopping would be at a low, experts said purchases are radically different.

The National Retail Federation shows spending is at a record high. It expects families to spend a little over $1,000 per family. Parents stock up on technology such as laptops, tablets and headphones, rather than clothes, school supplies, notebooks, folders and paper.

No need to stress about the wardrobe, but it still adds up. The Cohn family was shopping for Jaylen’s new computer at Best Buy.

 “Back-to-school shopping is definitely more expensive this year. It’s not shopping for a backpack, it’s now a laptop,” said Andy Cohn, Jaylen’s father.

Nikolaus Johnson, Consultant Supervisor of Best Buy, said many manufacturers were not prepared for this demand. 

He said the top items requested are laptops, speakers, headphones, smartphones and all the accessories. Johnson added the most sought after item is a webcam.

News 8 discussed the shift in school shopping with marketing director Miro Copic at San Diego State.

He said this back-to-school shopping looks to be the biggest shopping time of the year, for in-store and online.

NRF reported that college students and their families expect to spend an average of $1,059.20 per family, which would top last year’s record of $976.78. College spending is expected to total $67.7 billion, up from $54.5 billion last year and breaking the record of $55.3 billion set in 2018.

Total spending for K-12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $101.6 billion – exceeding last year’s $80.7 billion and topping the $100 billion mark for the first time.