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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With colleges and grade schools going virtual, marketers are trying to come up with ways to pry consumers' wallets open during the back-to-school season.

Between the lines: Retail sales in July came in higher than they were in February, before the pandemic sent stores and restaurants closing en masse, the Commerce Department reported Friday morning.

The big picture: Marketers are keen to convince parents to turn college-bound teens' bedrooms into dorm rooms, kitchens into faux cafeterias, and backyards into recess playgrounds — by buying new stuff from retailers eager to keep the fall shopping season from being a bust.

  • Despite all the factors working against U.S. merchants — like high unemployment and shoppers who are wary of malls — it was the third straight month that retail sales have risen, pointing to robust demand despite an economy that entered a recession in February.
  • "Consumers last month boosted spending on electronics and appliances, health products and restaurant meals," per the WSJ.

The marketing wizardry: While some retailers are still highlighting their backpacks and lunch boxes, forward-thinking competitors are hawking stylish masks, homeschooling supplies, and products to help turn your home into a school — clever taglines included.

  • Target: "Find everything you need for wherever you college."
  • Bed Bath & Beyond has published a guide on "How to design your own 'dorm room' at home." (Suggestions include "create a cohesive look," "express yourself" and check out these desk chairs, lamps and comforters for sale!)
  • Per the NYT: "Kohl’s back-to-school offerings are listed online with the tagline, 'Heading back or logging in, the new year starts here.'"

The bottom line: Enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 a week ended July 31, leaving many Americans with less disposable income. And the extra $300 a week that President Trump aims to deliver will likely take some time to arrive.

  • This means that August retail sales are likely to drop, despite the best efforts of retailers' marketing departments.

Go deeper

Chaos looms as biggest U.S. shipping companies prepare for holiday rush

Pallets with mail-in ballots at a USPS center. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

If you rely on last-minute holiday shopping, 2020 won't be your year.

Why it matters: America's biggest shipping companies are out of excess capacity, and that's before the holiday rush.

2 hours ago - World

Map: A look at world population density in 3D

This fascinating map is made by Alasdair Rae of Sheffield, England, a former professor of urban studies who is the founder of Automatic Knowledge. It shows world population density in 3D.

Details: "No land is shown on the map, only the locations where people actually live. ... The higher the spike, the more people live in an area. Where there are no spikes, there are no people (e.g. you can clearly identify ... the Sahara Desert)."

Biden's Day 1 challenges: The immigration reset

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President-elect Biden has an aggressive Day 1 immigration agenda that relies heavily on executive actions to undo President Trump's crackdown.

Why it matters: It's not that easy. Trump issued more than 400 executive actions on immigration. Advocates are fired up. The Supreme Court could threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and experts warn there could be another surge at the border.