Parents’ New Nightmare: ‘The Basics’ Get Complicated
“No one wants to buy a wool sweater when it’s hot out,” Cohen said. He expects there will be waves of sales growth. “In the early stages, school supplies and electronics will do well. And when school is back in session apparel and footwear will show some true promise, driving shoppers to department, sporting goods, and specialty stores."
While some suspect the delay in spending is driven by a desire to seek out the best promotions or to spread out spending, promotions aren’t the only things shoppers are after this year, according to Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL/Strategic Retail.
“Price doesn’t go away,” Liebmann said. “It’s almost the price of entry, having a good value.”
But other factors are part of the equation, including convenience. In a survey of 410 adults in June, only 26 percent said they were selecting a store based on it having the best back-to-school promotions. Instead, parents are looking for convenience.
Longer Supply Lists
Since many parents are looking for a one-stop shopping solution, it may not be surprising that some three-quarters of those polled by WSL/Strategic Retail plan to head to discounters such as Target, Wal-Martand Kmart.
And what’s on their shopping list might surprise you. Sure there are the usual pencils, notebooks, jeans and sneakers, but Liebmann expects many of the back-to-school shoppers to stock up on health-related products such as healthy snacks (50 percent) and anti-bacterial items (38 percent).
The longer shopping lists also may be a factor that explains why many parents are expecting that they will spend more this year. Schools are asking parents to buy a lot of supplies they once provided. Plus, many consumer packaged goods companies are trying to grab their own piece of the back-to-school spending spree.
Hitching a Ride
“Parents have to open their wallets during this season,” Liebmann said. “You do have to spend something to get your kids back-to-school….companies are trying to hitch a ride.”
The Wish Factory, a toymaker, is a good example. This year the company has launched Locker Rockers, a line of school locker accessories priced between $5 and $20 each, at Toys ‘R Us stores. The items range from little chandeliers to light up a locker to decorative mirrors, wall paper and hangers for storing headsets. Even the bottom of the locker hasn’t been forgotten – there are shaggy rugs to jazz that up.
“A girls’ room at school is the locker,” said Scott Bachrach, president of the Wish Factory. Locker Rockers helps a girl “express who she is."
The product has been on the shelves for six weeks, and so far “sales are very good,” Bachrach said. He expects it will be a growing category.
Certainly, locker accessories are not a necessity, so it supports the theory that parents will let kids make some discretionary purchases.
Still, there are some who are less certain that these rosy forecasts will come to fruition.
Ron Friedman, retail practice leader at consulting and accounting firm Marcum, doesn’t doubt that there is consumer demand and the desire for these products. However, he has looked at months of weakening consumer confidence and consumer spending levels, and he expects consumers will be cautious. What’s more, retailers have a high hurdle to jump to top last year’s strong back-to-school sales.
“Teenagers are pulling back, kids are going to have to make do with less, parents are being very selective,” Friedman said.
According to Friedman, wealthier consumers have the money to spend and they may continue to buy $60 T-shirts for their children, but the majority of Americans will spend cautiously until at least the presidential election this fall. What’s more, visits to Southern California stores, where schools open in mid-August, have not shown a frenzy of buying, Friedman said.
If Friedman is right, it may be back to basics for students after all.