Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back-to-School Shopping Weekend

There were those who thought that the back-to-school shoppers would never materialize, but I was out this weekend and saw the shoppers with my own eyes. It is the last weekend before schools start to open for the fall, and I saw more than the usual number of weekend shoppers looking for clothing and supplies. But the stores were not crowded. Based on what I heard, Apple was the only store that was crowded, and of course, that is because Apple has small stores.

I counted shoppers in the likely back-to-school stores in one shopping center. The most popular store was Goodwill, with 50 shoppers. There were 20 people in Dollar Tree, where I noted that there was no promotional school supply display inside the store. Five people were browsing the sidewalk sale at Fashion Bug, but when I went inside the store, there were no shoppers to be seen.

And not everyone was buying. At Goodwill, only one person had a shopping cart, and there was not yet anything in it.

I think there will be more shoppers in September, after school has started. Still, it’s easy to see that shoppers are being more cautious about their spending than they were a year ago. Retailers that count on impulse purchases from the back-to-school crowd will be disappointed.

I also took a look at new car lots on the closing weekend of Cash for Clunkers. Most were surprisingly depleted, with only half to two thirds of the normal stock of cars. Most had already taken down their “Clunkers” signs, in advance of the Monday deadline for the government trade-in program. According to reports, many car dealers are squeezed for cash this month as they wait for payments from the Cash for Clunkers program, which may not arrive until next month. In the meantime, they may be unable to order new cars to replenish their inventory.