Sunday, August 16, 2009

Slow Back-to-School Shopping

Retailers prepared for a down Christmas shopping season, yet shoppers still caught them off guard with how little they bought in December. Since then, the economy has declined further, so could the back-to-school shopping season possibly compare to last year’s results?

Well, no, of course not. Children and adolescents are supposed to be the most reliable clothing shoppers, as they change sizes almost every year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t cut back and trade down when they go shopping. The New York Times gets a pretty good sense of the situation in their story, “Retailers See Back-to-School Sales Slowing.” The story contains the memorable quote from a forecaster, “This is going to be the worst back-to-school season in many, many years.” Retailers planned for sales 4 percent lower than last year, but are finding that in the largest back-to-school categories, sales are off more than that.

Many shoppers are going home with just two pairs of jeans and two pairs of shoes and are compromising on style to get better prices. But at the same time, many are not showing up in the stores at all, perhaps shopping in used clothing stores, putting off the shopping trips until school actually starts, or making do with what they already have.

The Times says pencils and notebooks are selling about as well as ever, but I am skeptical of this report after going into stores and not seeing the usual August school-supply displays set up. Nevertheless, it tells you how much things are declining when the few bright spots in the shopping season are the areas where sales seem to be about the same as the year before.