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

Ina Fried, author of Login
Aug 25, 2020 - Technology

What tech is (and isn't) selling during the coronavirus pandemic

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Sales of PCs, webcams and other tech products that help people work, learn and play at home are up, while products designed for the highly mobile are losing ground.

The big picture: The pandemic has shifted where Americans spend their time — and, consequently, where they are spending their tech dollars.

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 a.m. ET: 30,804,120 — Total deaths: 957,348— Total recoveries: 21,062,785Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 a.m. ET: 6,766,631 — Total deaths: 199,268 — Total recoveries: 2,577,446 — Total tests: 94,211,463Map.
  3. Education: What we overlooked in the switch to remote learning
  4. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  5. Health: The dwindling chances of eliminating COVID-19.
  6. World: Guatemalan president tests positive for COVID-19 — The countries painting their pandemic recoveries green.

What we overlooked in the switch to remote learning

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

America’s rapid and urgent transition to online school has come with a host of unforeseen consequences that are only getting worse as it continues into the fall.

The big picture: The issues range from data privacy to plagiarism, and schools are ill-equipped to deal with them, experts say.