Parents’ New Nightmare: ‘The Basics’ Get Complicated
As kids head back-to-school, parents focus on replenishing and replacing kids’ gear, but this year even the basics have gotten more complicated, creating a new nightmare for parents.
Backpacks have more personality. Jeans have more color. Bring a brown paper lunch bag to school? Never! What would the other students think?
Even uniforms aren’t as simple as manufacturers offer up blouses with more tailored silhouettes, skirts with more embellishments, and clothing with high-tech wicking material more commonly associated with sporting goods companies such as Nike orUnder Armour.
Perhaps that’s why many of the more recent forecasts are projecting strong gains in back-to-school spending. A survey commissioned by the retail industry’s trade group, the National Retail Federation, for example, found that the average person with children in kindergarten through high school expects to spend $688.62 for back-to-school, up from $603.63 last year.
Add in spending by college students, and the back-to-school season could ring up $83.8 billion in retail sales, the NRF says, making it the second most important spending season for retailers after the winter holidays.
“Consumers are opening up their purse strings,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market researcher NPD Group. He expects to see a little indulgence as parents shop for back-to-school items.
“The good news this year is they plan on listening to their kids and getting some of the things their kids want to buy,” Cohen said. “When kids are going to get to buy what they want to buy, that’s a good sign.”
Take the backpack. It’s often the first item people buy for back-to-school. This year, kids are buying backpacks that really make a statement and stand out in the crowd.
Lands' End, a unit of Sears Holdings , expanded its selection of prints and patterns to take advantage of the trend. The company also expanded the number of reusable lunch boxes and accessories it offers, and many of these items coordinate with the backpack designs.
Parents have been buying insulated lunch boxes and water bottles for food safety reasons. But this year reducing waste, like baggies and plastic forks, is the target. So Lands' End added resuable sandwich wraps, napkins and utensils, to its line-up.
But backpacks and lunch boxes also are a way for kids to express themselves — this becomes especially important as more schools require uniforms or a standard dress code, said Adam Weil, senior director of Lands' End School, which oversees the retailer's uniform division.
Shift to Uniforms Still Growing
The shift to uniforms, even at public schools, has continued over the past few years, and the numbers are surprising. Twenty-three percent of all public and private schools in the U.S. now have a uniform policy, with public schools making-up the majority at 19 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. New Orleans, Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, Miami and Cincinnati all have the majority of their public schools requiring uniforms. The newer twist with the trend is that even children in preschool are being asked to adhere to a dress code.
French Toast, a leader in the school uniform business, expects its sales to rise at least 10 percent this year — the best performance since before the recession.
Also, more broadly, there is an increase in elementary- and middle-school enrollment. According to the NRF, three in 10 Americans have children between the ages of six-years-old and 17-years-old. More kids likely will mean more back-to-school spending.
NPD’s Cohen expects kids will want to splurge on new fashions. For girls, this means colorful pants and clothing with a more feminine look. Boys will likely opt for dressier styles this year. Cohen also expects to see higher spending on footwear, especially athletic shoes. And athletic gear will get a boost from the back-to-school spending spree.
"We bring in the fashion elements without overstepping how school uniforms should look," said Michael Arking, president of FrenchToast.com. "We don't get so far from what a uniform is in terms of modesty." This may mean details such as double-ruching on a girls' blouse, more elaborate button treatments, or a more fitted silhouette.
But whether parents are shopping for uniforms or not, some experts expect some spending may be delayed until it gets closer to the start of the school year and until the temperatures drop.