With 2012 being a stellar year for school supply sales across the nation, retailers were nervous this summer as to whether families would reuse classroom supplies and electronics, and keep wearing last year’s clothing, instead of shopping new in 2013.
Although the final numbers aren’t out, the National Retail Federation is predicting that families with school-age children will spend roughly $545 less per child during the 2013 back-to-school surge, down from $688.62 to $634.87.
The NRF also reports that 80 percent of families plan to cut back school-time spending due to the economy.
All told, spending for clothes and school supplies for grades K-12 is still estimated at $26.7 billion, with an additional $45.8 billion for the back-to-school college market. Not bad for the tail end of a recession.
“The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind,” said NRF CEO Matthew Shay.
New accessories and apparel took the biggest chunk of shoppers’ budgets so far, with 95.3 percent of families with K-12 kids plunking down an average of $230.85 in this category.
Coming in second is footwear, with an average of $114.39 spent, followed by basic school supplies like notebooks, pencils and folders, which grabbed $90.49 per school-age household.
A different issue challenging local retailers large and small is the growth of shopping online for school supplies. Roughly 36.6 percent of shoppers surveyed said they planned to comparative shop for K-12 and college students online, while 18.5 percent plan to shop online for school items more often, according to a Prosper survey.
“Hoping to spread out their budgets but still reap the benefits of getting the products their children want, parents this back-to-school season will comparison shop online and around town at their child’s favorite stores, potentially even more than once, as they seek to find bargains and products that offer the best value,” said said Prosper consumer insights director Pam Goodfellow.
The South Sound, though, seems to have bucked the national trends. Retailers here say that not only was their back-to-school season as strong as last year’s, but they’re not losing customers to online shopping, either.
“We did our big push in August, and sales were as high as they always are for this time of year,” said Tacoma Goodwill 6th Avenue’s manager Sarah Butler.
Her store’s biggest seasonal seller? Clothes. And she brushed off concerns about competition from other stores and online.
“Price is definitely a factor for our shoppers, and they know we sell good-quality back-to-school clothing,” she said. “As for online, it’s not taking away business because our shoppers are also looking for that instant gratification.”
At Office Depot on Union Avenue, manager Andrew Hjelseth agreed that this back-to-school season brought in the same crowds and sales as usual.
Although the company does some business online for the season, he said that the majority of shopping was in-store.
“It’s the same every year,” he said. “Once we get to that first September week, and that first day of school, it get a little nuts in here. It’s our second-busiest day to Black Friday.”
Although graph paper is always a bestseller, he added that, “There was a little bit of this and that from every aisle” flying off the shelves at a rapid pace.
At Walmart Tacoma, a manager who requested anonymity said that college dormitory merchandise was their top-selling category this year. Although the store only opened this summer, she said the crowds were comparable to those at other Walmart stores in the region.
Her top K-12 sales items? Folders and backpacks. And she’s not worried about competition online.
“Kids want to check everything out and pick their own things,” she said. “That’s the reason we sell out every year.”