Slow Back to School Shopping Season Spells Deals for Families

Retailer woes are continuing amid a slower than expected back to school shopping season. Higher prices and economic problems contribute to parents either delaying purchasing school supplies or substantially shaving down their shopping lists, and parents may benefit from retailers responding by sweetening deals.

According to Anne D'Innocenzo of the Associated Press, year-to-year revenues at retailers that have been operating for at least a year have shown a distinctly lackluster rate of growth this July at just 3.5%. This was 2% slower than the rate of growth last month, and was the slowest increase since this March. Even perennially well-performing retailers like Costco Wholesale Corp. reported disappointing results.

Many stores were already offering discounts and other come-ons to get shoppers to spend on the new shipments of fall clothing that started flowing in mid-July. But experts say even more deal are coming this month as stores try to boost sales for the back-to-school season, which runs from mid-July through mid-September.

‘‘It was a lousy start,'' said Walter Loeb, a New York-based independent retail consultant. ‘‘There will be even more discounts to make up the sales.''

Ken Perkins, the President of RetailMetrics LLC, a firm that researches trends in consumer spending, agrees with the grim assessment. Consumers are much less likely to splurge this season, and more of them are being very diligent about seeking out deals. Still, the figures only reflect a very small percentage of stores that report their sales figures on a month-to-month basis. Among those that don't are Wal-Mart, Target and many other large chains.

But Thursday's tally adds to evidence that shoppers are being frugal about their purchases, particularly clothing. The back-to-school season is the second-biggest selling period behind the winter holidays.
On Monday, teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters Inc. slashed its second-quarter outlook because of weak traffic and sluggish sales of women's merchandise. The teen retailer cited a highly promotional environment that only got tougher in July.

On Thursday, rival Aeropostale Inc. warned that it would have a wider loss than expected when it reports its second-quarter results later this month. It also blamed weak traffic and lots of discounting.

Also to blame is the fact that schools, facing tighter budgets themselves, are increasingly attempting to offload their costs onto the parents. Families are being asked to pay higher fees for things like gym and various extracurriculars and more of them are expecting to be asked to purchase textbooks for their kids.

Still, those who wait to make these purchases could end up taking advantage of the definite whiff of desperation in the air among retailers. Families that can afford to wait a little before buying could end up reaping substantial benefits in sales, promotions and lower prices.

08 12, 2013
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