Best-Selling Distance Learning Supplies in 2020

Collection of distance learning supplies

Distance learning is upending everything we know about back-to-school shopping. School reopening plans are changing constantly, while students are learning remotely, outside, and in person. This year’s back-to-school shopping season won’t have a clear end date, creating an opportunity for many retailers.

With students learning in so many different ways, the back-to-school products you need to keep in stock will look different, too. We looked at Square sellers’ transactions* from August to September to see the items that sold well — and those that didn’t — during the beginning of this year’s back-to-school season.

Even if you don’t sell educational products, this list can help you rethink and repackage your product mix as distance learning stretches on and continues to evolve.

18 distance learning products to add to your catalog

We’ve grouped these items based on four educational scenarios that students, teachers, and parents are finding themselves in as a result of the pandemic.

In-home classroom setup

Whether students are in elementary school or college, a comfortable home classroom can ease some of the difficulties of remote learning. That means many people are purchasing basic office gear, like office chairs and desks. According to our data, sales have risen 115% and 45%, respectively, since last year.

Some folks are enhancing their setup with distance learning supplies like desk organizers, exercise balls, and desk pads to make the remote classroom setup more organized and ergonomic. So far this year, desk organizer sales have risen 4.4X, exercise ball sales have gone up 3.7X, and sales for desk pads climbed 29%, according to our research.

What to do next: Think about the items you sell that could make a remote classroom more comfortable. Whether it’s desk plants, organizers, or artwork, rebranding your inventory for home offices and remote classrooms can help you get your products in front of more students.

Remote learning support

Educational aids can also help students absorb new information more effectively. That’s why our data shows that printer sales have risen by 70% this year compared to last, dry erase board sales have grown by 53%, and flashcard sales have soared 5.5X.

Some unconventional products are also experiencing a spike in sales. Fidget spinners, which can help people with ADHD focus better, have seen sales rise by 61% compared to last year.

Remote learning also means many students are now on video calls. To help improve video quality, shoppers are stocking up on ring lights, which can make lighting more flattering. Ring light sales have ballooned 11X since last year, while sales of webcam covers, which help with privacy, have grown 6X.

What to do next: Educational aids are in high demand, so products that can help students with schoolwork will remain popular. You may want to consider stocking up on items like chalkboard paint, whiteboards, and other surfaces that allow people to sketch out ideas. Any resources that can help with video conferencing will also be in higher demand.

Outdoor learning support

Teaching al fresco is now a very real solution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Similar to the way businesses are selling and serving customers outside, outdoor classrooms require a certain set of equipment to make them functional.

Items that enable students to stay outside in a variety of weather conditions are selling out fast. We found that sales for rain boots have grown 4X compared to last year, while sales for beach towels are up by 55%.

What to do next: If you’re having trouble moving spring and summer inventory, try positioning your items for outdoor learning. Products like raincoats, umbrellas, tents, and camping gear could all be helpful for teachers setting up outdoor classrooms and students learning outside.

In-person learning transition

Full and partial in-person learning is happening in communities across the country. Some products that allow for students to keep belongings contained and sanitary are being newly offered this year, including large backpacks, mask lanyards, and mask pouches.

Sales for labels have grown by 41% from last year, to help students keep track of their belongings. Paper bag sales have risen by 90% compared to last year, which may be attributed to students not being able to bring lunch containers from home.

What to do next: Products that allow kids to personalize their belongings, therefore limiting contamination, won’t go away any time soon. Consider adding monogrammed items, labels, and larger bags and backpacks to your product catalog this year.

Back-to-school items that aren’t selling as well

This year, traditional school supplies are being replaced as students upgrade their tech stack and focus on items that enable nontraditional educational experiences. Low-tech school supplies like notebooks and pencils are dropping in sales compared to last year. However, composition books are an outlier, with sales having risen by 106%, according to our data.

Back-to-school item Sales difference from last year
Notebooks –46%
Pencils –43%
Pens –37%
Markers –35%
Crayons –23%

What to do next: If your back-to-school inventory hasn’t been moving enough, consider repackaging these products into another theme, such as art kits or holiday gifts, to attract shoppers who aren’t looking for these items specifically in a school context.

As students, teachers, and parents try to create some semblance of normalcy this year, shoppers are finding extra meaning in the back-to-school products that can make that happen. And now it’s an opportunity to give that meaningful educational experience directly to your customers.

** Square’s data is based on growing and declining sales metrics from August and September of 2019 and 2020. We analyzed thousands of transactions to identify the back-to-school items that are dropping and rising in sales this year as compared to last year.