This Year’s Must-Have Back-to-School Item: Masks for Children

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The back-to-school period is usually a flush time for businesses, and surveys about spending this year are mixed. Deloitte, the accounting firm, predicted that sales would reach $28.1 billion this year, up slightly from $27.8 billion in 2019. The National Retail Federation’s 2020 survey suggested that back-to-school spending could reach $33.9 billion, up from $26.2 billion in 2019. It said it anticipated an increase because many families are preparing for an extension of remote learning by purchasing laptops and other electronics.

Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData, said he had seen stores put a greater emphasis on protective products — like hand sanitizer, masks and wipes — as necessary back-to-school items. While stores aren’t aggressively pushing those items, he said, they are taking advantage of the need for them.

To some degree, Mr. Saunders said, some stores want children to pester their parents for masks, “for kids to say, ‘I want that mask because it’s nicely designed,’ or, ‘I like the patterns and colors on it.’”

He added, “There’s definitely a target for kids on these products.”

Mr. Saunders said that while retailers were making money off the growing need for protective items, they would lose money elsewhere — for instance, on clothing sales — if children are studying remotely this fall.

Professor Dorsey of the University of Washington, who has a 6-year-old son, said there were ways to encourage children to wear masks without scaring them. If that is done with the proper care, she said, children could come to see masks as commonplace much as an earlier generation of children came to accept the widespread use of bicycle helmets.

“If there are masks available that people can buy and we’re not preying on people with anxiety and fear, but just a product that we can purchase given that children will have to wear masks,” she said, “then to me it doesn’t seem to be a horrible thing.”

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