Despite Lingering Questions, Students Plan For College Return

College, campus
There could be a late run on ktichenware products as student head back to college.

Kitchenware items have long been a key component of retail product assortments during the back to school time frame, especially for college students heading off to campus.

But this year’s uncertainty over whether colleges across the United States will be opening has led many to question what impact this would have on product sales, including kitchenware.

As the calendar turned to August, some retailers were moving forward with back to school advertising promotions, not shying away from the possibility that many students may be learning virtually from home.

Recently, the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics issued a report stating that consumers tentatively plan to spend a record amount to prepare students for school and college. Most notably, they planned to buy more laptops and computer accessories in anticipation that some classes will take place online only.

According to the NRF, college students and their families expect to spend $1,059.20, up from 2019’s record total 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.

Among college shoppers, 60% plan to buy electronics, up from 53% in 2019, and they expect to spend more at an average $261.52, up from $234.69. Dorm furnishings average $129.76, up from $120.19, while clothing should be almost unchanged at $148.37 on average, compared with $148.54, with school supplies at $83.78, up from $71.92.

“Grads seem excited to get to this new chapter and want to be on the positive outcome,” said Jeff Gawronski, founder of Dormco. “It’s almost as if it would be too disappointing to not plan for college life in some way.”

As plans from colleges become clear, concerns over COVID-19 may provide new selling opportunities for home-related categories such as food preparation and food storage items.

The folks at MyRegistry noted that the desire to “nest” and have a comfortable, secure and safe space for starting college is driving students to create a dorm space with purpose.

As plans for the fall semester come into focus during August, should a significant number of colleges choose to welcome students back, retailers could see a sales spike. 

MyRegistry feels there could be a strong demand for products related to food preparation and food storage. Although many colleges and universities have upgraded their food and dining services, there initially was less interest from students in items that would allow them to prepare food in their dormitory. 

That said, many students also wanted to have the convenience of preparing and storing healthy meals and snacks for convenient, easy access. That led to an interest in storage products, multi-cookers, coffee/hot beverage makes and simple cooking tools.

This year, an increase in student interest in in-dorm food preparation could lead to sales growth for several product segments including multi-cookers, toaster ovens, mini-refrigerators, single-cup coffeemakers and electric kettles. 

And while retailers watch to see if there will be a strong demand for products throughout August, they also need to keep an eye on the shifting habits of where people will be shopping. 

According to the NRF, the largest share of college shoppers (43%) plan to make purchases online while 31% will go to discount stores. Department stores and office supply stores are tied at 26% and 25% plan to go to college bookstores.