Boston: An estimated $51.4 billion is likely to be spent in the 2008 back-to-school and back-to-college season, and retailers are looking at satisfying parents and students, after a period of falling and flat sales.
With just a month to go before parents send their kids back to school and college, booking apartments, rooms and shared dormitories, undertaking buying expeditions to “kit them up”, retailers are rolling out the red carpet to grab customer footfalls into their stores.
How does Wal-mart fare?
For Wal-Mart , the back-to-school season is the second largest and busiest season after Christmas. It is a time when buying peaks in the U.S and not surprisingly then, the stores are flooded with essential school supplies at value prices.
Wal-Mart’s offerings this year include everything from five cent notebooks, pens and glues under $1 to special value items like a week’s worth of tops and bottoms in apparel for $60 and laptops from Toshiba and Hewlett Packard priced between $398 to $598.
“Unbeatable value offerings is what we are aiming to provide our parent community”, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Shannon Frederick said. The chain is offering a range of back-to-college essentials including a $10, GE coffee maker, $15 vaccum cleaner and dorm room refrigerator for $79.
“I am glad I don’t have a freshman going to college this year” says Donna Kelble, a banker whose 19-year old daughter Erike, is in her sophomore year at the University of Massachusetts , Amherst. “I spent over $3000 last year buying everything for her dorm from a refrigerator to the bedding and furniture. Mercifully, this year I won’t have to go through that again”.
Stores equipped with new items, ahead of season
Retailers such as electronics chain store Best Buy, Circuit City and value retailer Target and office goods supplier Staples have flooded their stores with items, a bit earlier than previous years, trying to net those parents who like to plan ahead and avail of early bird discounts and who also make bookings online. Back-to-school and college buying usually peaks end August and early September .
One-fifth of parents nationwide have set aside a portion of their stimulus check for these purchases, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2008 Back-to-School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch , a consumer intelligence company.
A Wal-Mart-Disney tie-up will make waking up for school this year a pleasurable thing – with the click of a mouse, parents can register their child for a free wake-up call from Disney channel TV star and pop sensation Hannah Montana . Merchandize includes garments, backpacks, accessories , bedding, music, toys and video games. For college goers, retailers have lined up funky furniture, bedding and laptops to outfit their rooms in every imaginable shade from cheerful lime greens to fuschia and magenta.
The survey found that the average family with school goingchildren will spend $594.24 on back-to-school purchases, compared to $563.49 last year. Total back-to-school spending for Kindergarten through 12th grade this year is estimated to reach $20.1 billion.
NRF , the world’s largest retail trade body, representing 1.6 million U.S retailers, says , however, that while parents will continue to spend on school supplies for kids, spending on back-to-college purchases, including expensive electronic items, dormitory accessories and apparel will drop 7% this year, from an average of $641.56 per person last year to $599.38 this year.
“Parents typically spend an average of $800-1000 on a student who stays at home and around$2,500 on a teenager in freshman year who will spend four years in college”, says Howard Davenport, general manager of electronics retailer Best Buy in MA.
Retail earnings perk up
Davenport and other retailers are betting on the tax-free weekends that state governments declare in order to stimulate spending and give consumers a break in taxing times.
Eleven states including Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina suspended their sales tax recently for the back-to-school season. MA will have a sales tax holiday on August 16-17.
Parents such as Kelble point out that over the last few years expensive cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras, digital voice recorders and other items for high school students have emerged as ‘must have’s’ as they transition to college. This time though, retailers are going easy on expensive gadgets with many wooing consumers with attractive deals on laptops.