The early bird gets the backpack: With inflation and supply outages on the rise, waiting to do your back to school shopping is a bad idea

August 3, 2021
Sandy Skrovan
Written By
Sandy Skrovan

Families who delay their back-to-school shopping are paying a heavier price than those who shop early, based on price inflation trends from Profitero.

Every month, Profitero tracks online prices for thousands of products sold on popular retailer eCommerce sites, including Amazon, Walmart.com, Target.com and more. Prices for office supplies and clothes (two of the biggest back-to-school categories) jumped a further .06 ppts and 1.2 ppts, respectively, between July and June, the start of back-to-school season. Compared to June 2020, online prices for office supplies and clothes are up 4.8% and 11.3%, respectively, as of July. 

Inflation is hitting other popular back-to-school categories hard too -- online prices for electronics (think tablets, laptops) rose by 5.4% from June 2020 to July 2021. 

Prices are expected to rise throughout the summer and early Fall as shipping costs and product shortages continue to affect the industry. 

Here’s what families can do to combat inflation.

  • Complete as much of your back-to-school shopping now.

    Not only are prices likely to increase, popular items may no longer be in stock as the pandemic continues to create supply outages at retailers.

    Last year, for example, there was a shortage of kids' desks as parents prepared for virtual schooling. This year, backpacks appear to be the product most at risk of running out: Amazon searches for backpacks are up 4,819% year over year, making them the most in demand back to school item so far. 

  • If you’re avoiding stores due to COVID, then start your back-to-school shopping at Amazon.

    Based on our analysis, Amazon’s online prices are 10% cheaper, on average, than Walmart.com, Target.com and BestBuy.com across popular back to school goods. But if you’re a college student you can’t go wrong shopping at Walmart.com either, since they are closely matching prices with Amazon on mini-fridges, room décor and other dorm room essentials. 

 

  • In addition to consulting sites, like Slick Deals, use technology to price compare and shop around.

    For example, Amazon offers a free Google chrome extension tool called Amazon Assistant that pops up when you shop any product on another retailers’ site and shows you if they are offering a lower price.
     
  • Get smart with your website search terms.

    For example, typing “back to school supplies under $1” into the search bar on Walmart.com reveals all the best deals currently available and what’s in stock in your nearest store, so you don’t waste a trip.

 

While back to school is our sights now, think about shopping early for the holidays too. Inflation and supply outages are not going away. In fact, it may only get worse if COVID makes a strong resurgence. In uncertain times, being the early bird not only gets you the worm, but often the best prices too.

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