While kids are sleeping in or heading to summer camp, retailers are gearing up for the second biggest consumer season of the year: back-to-school shopping.
Though many people don’t realize it, back-to-school shopping is a full-fledged holiday for retailers, said Tim Sullivan, the co-founder of TeacherLists.com, an online directory of school supply lists.
“It’s my experience and expertise that holidays and back-to-school are really the only two calendared times of the year that retailers have dedicated marketing teams,” Sullivan said. “These teams are focusing on back-to-school year-long.”
It’s no wonder retailers are working around the clock to grab consumers’ attention. About 52 million parents are expected to spend around $25 billion in total on back-to-school gear in the coming weeks, according to data collected by the National Retail Federation.
A sales-tax-free holiday weekend from Aug. 1-3 will be particularly important for retailers and state officials alike, said Florida Retail Federation spokesman John Fleming. A state-commissioned study found that the tax-free weekend in 2010 generated $7 million in tax revenue, a surprise for officials who expected to lose between $24 and $44 million during the event. The reason: people who went out to buy school supplies bought plenty of non-exempt items as well, Fleming explained.
And, it’s not your imagination: Back-to-school items really are appearing in stores earlier every year, and the lists are getting longer, according to the NRF.
In addition to basic pencils and notebook paper, many school lists now include less traditional items like hand sanitizer and tissues.
“School budgets are as pressed as ever,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s true of my job and yours, too: If I need a pen at my office, the company buys it. At schools, teachers are digging into their own pockets.”
While back-to-school can make budget-conscious parents anxious, Sullivan said the season’s mania can actually help save families money.
“This time of the year, kind of like the holidays, they’re really really wanted, so they can really save,” Sullivan said. He suggested bargain-seeking parents search for brand coupons on the Internet and compare prices at various stores.
But school supply lists are just the first thing parents have to worry about. There’s also shoes, accessories and the ever-important “first day” outfit.
Clothing and shoes makes up a large percentage of families’ back-to-school spending, according to the NRF. The average family spends $230.85 on clothes and $114.39 on shoes during the season.
“Everyone wants to show off what (clothes) they got during the summertime,” said Sardiah Leclerc, the Delia’s store manager at Coconut Point shopping center. “This time of the year is like another holiday for us. No one really thinks it’s a holiday for back to school, but it is.”
To attract back-to-school shoppers, Leclerc said her store plans to host a “style session” party from 7 to 9 p.m. this Thursday to help young girls put together appropriate outfits that meet schools’ dress codes. Denim without rips and long sleeves are particularly popular picks, Leclerc said.
At Justice, a young girl’s clothing store, extra staffing is key to surviving the rush. The Edison Mall location hires about five new employees specifically to meet the increased traffic, said employee Lisdey Morell.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Store, a children’s resale store in Naples, experiences a 25 percent boost in business, store manager Shana Smith said.
“People think of the Southwest Florida area as a retirement community, but we have tons of young families,” Smith said. “There are a lot of us here with a lot of young kids, and back-to-school shopping is definitely where it’s at for us.”
Top school items
The top items on school supply lists: