Back-To-School Is A Bust In July

Back-to-school may have started early this year for many retailers, but it started with slow sales too, the Associated Press reported on Thursday (Aug. 8).

Same-store sales in July rose 3.8 percent, the smallest gain since March, according to a check of 10 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers. Shoppers were apparently more interested in hunting for bargains among discounted summer merchandise than in picking up new fall clothing for their children. Same-store sales in June were up 5.5 percent.

"This raises more concern about the back-to-school season," Ken Perkins, president of research firm RetailMetrics, told the AP. "A vast number of shoppers are sticking to their shopping lists and are being very deal-driven."

Families with back-to-school children were already expected to spend less: an average of $634.78 this year on clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics, down 7.8 percent from last year's $688.62, according to a survey last month by the National Retail Federation. The NRF expects overall spending for grades K-12 to total $26.7 billion, an 11.9 percent drop from $30.3 billion last year.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers' chief economist, Michael P. Niemira, total sales for the back-to-school season will be up 3.1 percent to $42.2 billion. That would be less than 2012's 3.6 percent but near the 3.3 percent average annual increase for the past 10 years, which includes the depths of the recession.

None of this bodes well for the idea that launching back-to-school sales early would give retailers an advantage. Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) all started in early July, under the theory that this year shoppers would split their spending between school supplies early in the season and clothing later. It may be another month or two before we get hard results from those experiments, but so far it appears shoppers are holding onto their back-to-school cash until their children really are about to go back to school.

For more:

- See this Associated Press story
- See this Wall Street Journal story

Related stories:

Back-To-School: This Year, Online Is Big, Discount Stores Are Bigger
Walmart Crowdsources Its Back-To-School Website, Adds Uniforms
Back-To-School Creep Is Here, But It May Not Help

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