The start of school is still weeks away, but back-to-school shopping has already kicked into high gear.
About 37 percent of consumers have started purchasing school supplies, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers consumer tracking survey.
The ICSC survey further found that though 73 percent of shoppers will conduct research online, most will make their final purchases in a brick-and-mortar store. Nearly 90 percent will buy back-to-school items in a retail store.
“After a tough winter with adverse weather in much of the country, retailers have been enjoying a strong start to summer as pent-up demand has propelled sales,” said Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the ICSC. “This momentum will continue into the BTS (back-to-school) selling season as well, with the vast majority of consumers indicating a strong propensity to shop for school-related items.”
Brian Prinz, the manager of the Staples in Aiken, said his store began setting up displays in June for the onset of shoppers in search of school products. Prinz pinpointed the July Fourth weekend as to when customers got a jump-start on their back-to-school purchases and expects the upcoming sales tax holiday next weekend will fill the store with shoppers.
“A lot of parents who are buying electronics for their kids going to college, they’ll come in at that time,” Prinz said. “You’ll see more of the older kids in during the tax-free weekend. Then the two weeks leading up to back to school is when we will sell more of the younger kids’ supplies.”
Though locker accessories continue to be popular merchandise for K-12 school pupils, tablets and laptops are the top items for college students, Prinz said.
Prices for school-related items have been lowered at Staples this year, Prinz said, in an effort to make the store more competitive with rival retailers.
“I think everyone is just trying to be in the market to make it less (expensive) for customers, so that they’ll buy all their supplies there at once,” he said.
Overall, total revenue pumped into the economy from back-to-school shopping should remain relatively flat from last year, dipping slightly from $26.7 billion to $26.5 billion in 2014. The National Retail Federation, which surveyed nearly 6,200 consumers, attributed the drop to households containing slightly fewer students this year.
However, combined sales from back-to-school and back-to-college shopping is expected to rise from $72.5 billion in 2013 to $74.9 billion this year, according to the NRF survey.
On average, families with children in elementary, middle or high school will spend nearly $670 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics. College students and their families will spend about $916 on dorm furniture, school supplies and electronics for a total of $48.4 billion.
Students, regardless of age, will expend the most money on electronic devices, which will accumulate to more than $21 billion in spending, the NRF said.
“Slow improvements in the economy may have contributed to the growth in confidence among back-to-school shoppers, and while we are encouraged by the overall tone of the results and expect to see continued improvement in consumer spending through the year, we know Americans are still grappling with their purchase decisions every day,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Throughout the history of this survey, spending has fluctuated based on family needs each year, and this summer, we expect parents to continue to use caution, but also make smart decisions for their family budget that is a good balance between what their children ‘want’ and what they actually need.”
At the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Deans Bridge Road, manager Warren Wohlgemuth said the back-to-school shopping season began about two weeks ago and predicts the week and a half before classes resume will be the busiest at the store. He expects new incentives, like a 10 percent discount on classroom supplies for teachers, will drive shoppers into the store this year.
“The seven to 10 days prior to school opening will be the busiest for sure,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out here early shopping. You get your best assortment if you shop early.”
Wohlgemuth also foresees the annual sales tax holiday, which falls on the same weekend this year for both Georgia and South Carolina, to benefit the south Augusta store. In 2012 and 2013, the sales tax free weekend in South Carolina was held a week before the one in Georgia.
“With us being a border town, you’re always competing with them,” Wohlgemuth said.
“So having it at the same time should be good for us. I think we can be competitive that way.”