The category that will make or break the back-to-school season this year is showing signs of life. Electronics — which has been the foundation of positive sales predictions — has driven Best Buy to a stellar second quarter and is showing upticks in other parts of the retail sector.
This week Best Buy boasted its strongest online sales ever as computers and tablet sales showed consumers are taking remote learning and working more seriously. Online sales for Best Buy’s Q2 jumped 242 percent to $4.85 billion, beating the holiday season tally for 2019 of $3.52 billion. Even though it was limited to appointment-based and curbside pickup for more than half of Q2, overall revenue for May, June and July grew 3.9 percent over 2019 to $9.9 billion.
According to CEO Corie Barry, the remote learning setup that became a reality when schools first shifted in March was most likely filled by existing electronics products. “Now families are trying to create sustainable work and learning spaces in their homes that could support an extended period of time,” Barry told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Customer shopping behavior will be permanently changed in a way that is even more digital and puts customers entirely in control to shop how they want. Our strategy is to embrace that reality and lead, not follow.”
Electronics sales also showed up in the NPD Group’s sweep of back-to-school sales. Laptop sales for the seven weeks ending August 8 grew 51 percent over 2019. Sales have also grown for monitors, keyboards and docking stations. Remote learning has also spiked sales of webcams and routers.
“Virtual learning has expanded the technology needs of back-to-school consumers in a way we have not seen before. Beyond PCs and peripherals, distance learners will need home internet, connectivity, and dedicated spaces in the home for installation,” said Ben Arnold, NPD's consumer technology industry analyst, in a statement.
Traditional PC sales are also seeing a bounce. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), PC shipments grew 11.2 percent over 2019. IDC says Q1 broke records for the lowest PC shipments seen in over a decade, but full year volumes are expected to surpass 21 million units this year, the highest since 2009.
While tech is seeing a bounce, other back-to-school-oriented categories are still down. According to data from S&P Global based on imports, apparel sales are still mired in a second-quarter slump. Compared to last year, imports of kids’ footwear fell 44 percent in July, while apparel imports declined 29 percent. S&P sees a bounce in electronics, but sees potential supply chain issues.
“Sales of PCs, laptops and peripherals have been on the rise since the remote working and learning culture became the new normal,” says S&P. “However, one new problem being faced by schools across the United States is shortages and long delays, of up to several months, in getting this year's most crucial back-to-school supplies such as laptops and other equipment needed for online learning. This once again shows the massive demand for these distant-learning tools.”