Back to school: specialist retailers are ready despite Covid-19

This year will once again see many school starters source their demand for booklets, notepads, school satchels, drawing materials, books, and pens from the brick-and-mortar specialists. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has this year's back-to-school buys looking slightly different. Face masks are mandatory in stores; maintaining a safe distance is a must – and depending on the size of the shop, a specific number of people only may enter the store. Yet specialist retailers are prepared and ready for the first big run in the weeks to come. 

Retailers ready for the start of school

Stationery specialists are well prepared and do not anticipate major problems because of larger frequencies, not even in relation to infection control. Hygiene protocols have been created with both customers and employees in mind, and over the past weeks have stood the test in daily practice. Prior issues, for example maintaining a minimum distance inside the stores or missing advice information at the POS, have been dealt with in the meantime. Moreover, many specialist retailers control the number of people that can access their stores during peak times, either with the help of additional staff or by using a traffic light system. Add to this that schools have already sent out their list of requirements and materials to most parents, allowing them to go through them before the school holidays start. Other cooperating schools and kindergartens will follow soon. That, too, helps to flatten peak frequencies. Moreover, the retail trade will gradually increase its personnel to meet the anticipated influx of parents and pupils. On top of that, corona-related bottlenecks are not expected. The gradual easing post-lockdown came just in time to cater to the back-to-school season – the most important seasonal business of the year.

Advice and service to score with customers

The specialist retail trade still faces growing competition from discount stores and drugstores. Many customers tend to cover their initial demand for schooling materials when buying food or during a visit to the drugstore. Yet when it comes to advice and service, there is no alternative to the specialist retail trade. Especially when wanting to try out school satchels, parents still trust in the personal and competent advice from an on-site retailer. School kids try them on and have their posture analysed. A benefit which retailers need to emphasise to set themselves apart from the competition.

Trends for the 2020/21 school season

Very much in demand this year are pastels and fresh hues ¬–¬ colourful, but not too bright, and sporty black designs with discrete colour accents. School satchels or backpacks with sets of matching folders, sports bags and fully-loaded pencil cases are also very popular. Sustainability runs the whole gamut of products. More and more parents and pupils value ecological aspects and favour natural or recycled products, compared to the years before. 

Ideas for retailers:


  • Contact schools located in your area and have them send out a list of required materials to pupils before the school starts.
  • Introduce an access control system to uphold hygiene protocols even during peak frequencies.
  • Be creative and provide, for example, a Pick & Collect service! This allows parents to drop off their shopping list and collect the ready-packed goods at a later point in time.
  • Use your website, social media channels and the like to display your benefit: competent advice and a large product selection!


Christian Haeser 
CEO Handelsverband Wohnen und Büro

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