Back to School Shopping Falls Short

August 25, 2009

back to schoolBy Nicole Andriso:

The beginning of a new school year is just getting underway, and retailers are hoping back-to-school shoppers will overlook the down economy and higher gas prices and still go shopping for new school supplies. But according to a recent Gallup Poll, while consumer confidence is relatively high, consumers aren’t expected to respond favorably to back-to-school shopping.

The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2009 Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey states the average family with students in grades kindergarten through 12 is expected to spend 7.7 % less than they did in 2008. According to the survey, the economy is having a major impact on back-to-school spending, as four out of five Americans (85 percent) have made some changes to their back-to-school plans this year as a result. According to the survey, shoppers are spending less, hunting for sales more often, purchasing generic products and using more coupons.

Rolling out the Discounts

Many large discount chains, such as Target and Walmart, are rolling out the red “discount” carpet hoping to entice shoppers. A recent CBS Evening News story about back-to-school shopping found a five-pack of notebooks for 50 cents and a pack of crayons for 17 cents, both at Target. These sales are meant to lure the shopper into the store and hopefully have them spend more than just the pennies it costs for those supplies. According to NRF’s survey, discount stores will be the most popular destination for back-to-school shoppers.

In addition to sales, shoppers in some states got a tax-free holiday to buy school supplies. In 2009, Georgia, Alabama and New Mexico, participated in a tax break holiday specifically designed to encourage back-to-school shopping. Shoppers who purchased items such as writing utensils, notebooks and backpacks received a tax break. Unfortunately, residents of some states that had tax-free back-to-school holidays in years past did not get one this year.  It was a sign of cash strapped states scrambling to make up lost tax revenue.

Coupons are King

Parents are also keeping their eyes peeled for coupons and discounts. Discount-blogging mom Jill Cataldo from Chicago constantly scans for drugstore and grocery deals and blogs about it at She even has a page on her blog dedicated to back-to-school discount shopping tips. Her tips include not purchasing the entire shopping list at once, looking in unconventional places for supplies and never buying supplies that are pre-packaged.

Given the economy and gas prices, consumers are clearly taking some precautions when it comes to buying back-to-school supplies. Retailers are hoping customers will still spend enough to keep the back-to-school shopping season as second only to Christmas.