Second only to the holiday season, the back-to-school shopping frenzy is upon us. And shoppers have tempered their usual end-of-summer nostalgia to replenish school supplies, fill out wardrobes and pick out new kicks earlier.
Families and teenagers arrived at stores earlier this year. And even with the economy still on everyone’s mind, the National Retail Federation expects school and college shoppers to spend nearly $84 billion this year. The average family with school-age children is expected to spend just over $688 this season, up 14 percent from last year.
“We don’t have the sales numbers yet, but what we’re seeing is that people are more comfortable spending and coming here to shop,” said Leah Palmer, marketing manager for Rotterdam Square Mall and Wilton Mall at Saratoga. “And that’s absolutely a positive thing.”
The reasons behind the surge in spending are not what you’d think, though, according to national retail experts.
After several years of cutting back because of the economy, children and teenagers are now updating supplies and clothes they’ve had to make do with in previous years. In other words, says NRF Senior Vice President Ellen Davis, the growth in spending per household is not necessarily a trusty indicator of economic recovery.
“Families who have spent the last four years patching up holes in blue jeans and trying to squeak out one more school year with the family computer are starting to realize that this is the year some things need to be replaced,” she said.
And statistically speaking, there are also just more kids going to school this year.
About one-third of Americans have children between the ages of 6 and 17. The National Council of Education Statistics reports that the population of school-age children has jumped substantially this year, after several years of stagnation.
Interestingly, there are also more college students than ever living in campus housing this year. So retailers expected dorm furnishings to be in high demand leading up to Labor Day.
Palmer is just happy to see a steady flow of shoppers in the last month.
“We see people as far out as three to four weeks before school begins,” she said. “We see a strong flow of people in between, and there’s always a lot of last-minute shopping, as well.”
Many retailers at both Rotterdam and Wilton malls are ramping up their social media presence for the season, she said.
There’s been a heavy push for electronic discounts, coupons and promotions among retailers as they try to move out much of their summer merchandise and roll out autumn fashions.
“Given how much of an impact the economy is having on consumers’ buying decisions, retailers will remain competitive up through the final sale after Labor Day,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a news release, “rolling out Web, in-store and even mobile promotions to entice children and their parents.”
As the world’s largest retail trade association, NRF gauges consumer behavior and shopping trends year-round, and polled more than 8,500 people in its most recent back-to-school and college surveys.
It found that online back-to-school shopping has quadrupled over the last decade, with nearly 40 percent of shoppers buying at least one item online this year. Nearly seven in 10 tablet owners are expected to use their tablets to shop, and more than half of smartphone owners will use their smartphones to shop for back-to-school items.
“We do have quite a few coupons that go out to a merchant’s email database of customers,” said Palmer. “We’re definitely seeing in-store improvements in traffic and spending, though. Even on random weekdays, quite a few people are in the mall.”