Early indications may point to increased back-to-school spending, but it won't be done without a careful plan. A National Retail Federation survey of more than 5,700 adults found that consumers will do comparative shopping research online at a record-high rate in the survey's history. It also found that they plan to do the least amount of comparison shopping using retailer's physical advertisements.
While it's inevitable that children grow and pencils wear down, back-to-school isn't always a slam dunk for retailers, and competition gets tougher with every passing year. Retailers are pulling out all the promotions—often all at once—from low-price guarantees to offers for curbside pickup to reward schemes that benefit schools picked by customers—basically whatever it takes to win business.
Sears is offering eCoupons redeemable either in store or online, in addition to programs that allow customers to buy items online and pick them up in store. As an added perk, a store associate will even bring the purchases out to the parking lot so you never have to get out of your car.
Best Buy has its sights set on the older student, and its back-to-school promotions kicked off in June. The consumer electronics retailer is offering gift cards with the purchase of a Windows 8 tablet and $100 off an Apple iMac as special deals, among other deals.
Many shoppers don't really care what brand of school supplies they buy, so retailers have to compete on price, squeezing margins even more. This week, Staples begins its back-to-school promotions, including packs of erasers, index cards and pens for a penny.
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"They are traffic drivers. We want to win the customer's trip to the store, it's hard to pass up a penny deal, and most customers spend far more," Parneros said.
Even governments are adding incentives for consumers. This year, at least 17 states will offer shoppers sales tax breaks for back-to-school. Twelve will occur between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4.