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For back-to-school sales, retailers change target

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From page A4 | August 20, 2013 | Leave Comment

The issue: Stores focus on future buyers of America

August brings the usual heavily promoted back-to-school sales on clothes, electronic gear and, yes, even books. Some states will offer tax holidays. But those sales look to be less of a commercial bonanza than in years past.

U.S. households are expected to pare back-to-school spending by 7.8 percent over the previous year because of the uncertain economy, the National Retail Federation reports. Based on its annual consumer survey, the trade group predicts shoppers could spend up to $26.7 billion this year, down from last year’s predicted (but never confirmed) $30.3 billion total. It anticipates households will spend an average $634.78 on clothing and school supplies, slipping from a projected $688.62 last year.

The federation’s CEO, Matthew Shay, says “a combination of pent-up demand and a growing population of schoolchildren” led households to stock up on school supplies last year. This year, “parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season.”

The federation expects 56 percent of families with K-12 students will buy electronics, and those investing in a new tablet or smartphone will spend slightly less than last year, its press release says. It anticipates spending will decline to $199.05 from a projected $217.88 in 2012.

Those of a certain age will blow their cover by asking whatever happened to new sneakers and a new pencil box.

But back-to-school remains an important market, and the retail big thinkers are already looking down the road.

According to Bloomberg News, major retailers are aiming at college-bound students instead of their younger siblings. Why focus on crayons when you can be selling comforters and couches?

Bloomberg cites Credit Suisse analyst Michael Exstein as urging retailers to use back-to-school sales to college students to build long-term sales relationships.

Never mind that college enrollment was down 2 percent last year from the previous year, to 18.8 million. Or that this customer base, upon graduation, may be hauling comforters and couches to the parents’ basement, the standard headquarters for new graduates undertaking what has become a difficult job search.

But those recent graduates won’t remain in their parents’ basements forever. Or so everybody hopes.

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