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Back-to-school shopping sprees hampered by COVID-19, supply chain kinks

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 12:42 PM CDT
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(CNN) - It’s back-to-school shopping season, and the National Retail Federation is expecting record spending. But retailers aren’t seeing it yet.

They blame concerns about the COVID-19 delta variant and supply-chain issues.

This month is peak shopping season – one that was expected to break records.

“We’re expecting record breaking spending for both back to school and college this year,” said Kathleen Cullen, senior director for industry and consumer insights at National Retail Federation.

Parents are projected to spend $37 billion this year, up $3 billion from last year and the highest in a decade.

“A lot of this is centered around families and students expecting classes to take pace place in person. And they’re spending more because of that,” Cullen said.

But not at Nelly’s in Los Angeles.

Owner Jerald Neely is celebrating 50 years in business but not record-breaking sales. “I just haven’t seen it yet,” he said.

According to a new report, 56% of Americans plan to cut back on spending because of COVID-19, with 64% of consumers saying they’re now very concerned about the virus, a 25% jump in the last month.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. What would normally be our busy time of the year has been sort of busy,” Neely said.

And then there’s supply chain slowdowns.

“I have an order right now where I can’t fulfill it because my supplier doesn’t have the product that hasn’t made it here from other countries. So that’s money I’m losing,” Neely said.

And at Operation Backpack in New York City, they’re short on backpacks.

“This year, we need 15,000 and we’re short like upwards of 3,000,” said Paige Davis of Operation Backpack NYC.

These backpacks filled with supplies are going to New York City’s most vulnerable - children living in shelters.

“A pre-K backpack is like $45. A high school backpack can cost $150 or more. People who are struggling cannot afford that,” Davis said.

Federal aid has helped offset some of the pandemic’s economic pain.

About half of back-to-school shoppers are using stimulus checks or the child tax credit to pay for school supplies.

But for many families, it’s still not enough.

“The fact that the students in our shelters will have one less thing to worry about - where are they going to get their school supplies?” Davis said. “That’s all we want is to alleviate that stress, alleviate that burden so they can just be happy to go to school.”

School supplies this year could be more expensive. Retailers suggest shopping early and buying in bulk if you have more than one child.

Copyright 2021 CNN Newsource. All rights reserved. Gray Media Group, Inc., contributed to this report.