Sometime in July, most American retailers start talking back to school. Teachers hate this, of course, but it is a necessity for parents. Whether it’s getting markers for a kindergartner or bedding for a college student, families have to start thinking about lists and needs in anticipation of sending their kids off to further their education.
Aldi has been selling back-to-school products for years now, longer than Aldi Reviewer has been around. It’s been long enough that I’ve got a pretty good idea how it goes. In early July, Aldi starts setting out its first wave of products. At this point, most of it is college-oriented: small furniture, bedding, laundry supplies, and other accessories to perk up dorm or off-campus apartment life.
As July marches on, Aldi introduces products aimed at the K-12 back-to-school crowd: kid backpacks, lunch boxes, locker decor, and some basic school supplies. Products that could work for college still trickle in, though, and you’ll sometimes spot some college products from previous ads that haven’t sold yet.
In August, Aldi makes one more small push, maybe tossing out a few last-minute college options alongside Aldi Find food items for packing in school lunches. But at this point, Aldi is already shifting its new stock toward other themes, so by mid-August the only back-to-school stuff you’ll see on Aldi shelves are the unsold leftovers from July.
The New Normal
Aldi has, like every retailer, grappled with how to handle the pandemic. In the early months, Aldi shortened its ads while it tried to meet the sudden surge in consumer demand for essential products. Since then, Aldi has returned to its full-sized ads, and it has moved toward a schedule mostly similar to what we’ve seen in years past.
But nothing about 2020 has been quite like years past, and that is no more true than with school. Grade schools and universities alike have struggled with how to handle this fall. Many schools are offering students choices between reduced in-person schooling and online learning, and grade school teachers and professors alike have expressed concerns about classroom safety this fall. Some colleges have even weighed finishing the semester before Thanksgiving, anticipating a possible winter wave of infections. Schools in my area haven’t even published school supply lists yet … and if they do, I’m not sure what they’ll put on them.
What will all of this mean for Aldi? We’ve seen plenty of product shortages for stay-at-home items, but how will that play out for products we associate with leaving the house? How in-demand will backpacks and dorm furniture be, to say nothing of markers and loose-leaf paper? Part of of that depends on how many parents send their kids physically back to school — on that front the numbers are unclear — while another part depends on how open school and university campuses will be. What’s more, because the situation is fluid, attitudes among schools, parents, and students may change. This would be especially true if infection rates spike in certain areas or if schools start experiencing large outbreaks.
That’s a tough spot for all retailers to be in, but for Aldi — with its limited space — it’s especially challenging. Aldi will no doubt stock back-to-school products because kids may be headed back to school, but it’s anyone’s guess how well they will sell. The worst-case scenario would be for all that stuff to hit shelves only for schools to close down at the last minute.
The silver lining is this: many of the products Aldi sells, especially related to dorm gear, may still sell, since people might buy it for their homes. How well it would well, I don’t know.
I’ll be watching the next few weeks with a lot of interest. I’m sure Aldi will be, too.