Back to School Sales Energize Local Retailers After a Slow Summer

By: Jennifer Dowling Email
By: Jennifer Dowling Email
Woman in store

Shopping for school supplies, July 28, 2009. (WRDW-TV)

"Explosive" is how retailers describe their last two weekends as last-minute shoppers jump at back-to-school sales. Donna Casey and her family were at the Lansing Mall on Monday looking for clothes and backpacks for the school year. She says, "Spending is the same as last year, so We need the stuff and we're going to use our money wisely here at 'Pennys."

Her family is one of many giving local retailers a shot in the arm after a slow summer. Lois says, "Back to school is our biggest third quarter promotion, I'm pleasantly surprised we are getting as much traffic as we are."

Store manager Lois Rainero says school uniform sales picked up in early August and the past two weekends have been crazy busy with school starting this week. That's helping to offset the company's plan for a loss of about 8%. Rainero says, "We did plan to have a loss, but we are beating our plan, especially in girls, matter of fact, we had to take several racks off the floor this morning because we're flat out of merchandise."

Another trend retailers are noticing this year is that extended family is clearing the racks and shopping with the kids helping to increase traffic here. Rainero says, "We've noticed this year, a lot of Grandparents shopping with their children."

At Target, Store Manager Jessica Moliterno says sales are also down from 2008. However, back to school supplies and clothes are ringing in a boost. She says, "It's obviously been slower than it has been in the past, but we're seeing lots of increased sales from July to August with the back to school shopping with backpacks, with the lunchboxes, calculators. We've had higher sales in those. We've seen very high sales in the girl's department. Girls by far, by a landslide, has been one of the busiest areas of the store."

The store also has a new incentive to get past lower consumer confidence. She says, "Something new we've started in the last couple months is price matching our competitors which target hasn't done in years. You can actually bring in an ad from our local competitors and we can price match the exact same item for you so that's drawn in a lot of extra guests."

Retailers expect another sales surge next weekend. They say once the kids see what their friends are wearing, they'll head back to pick up the trends.

In addition to spurring sales, the back to school rush is also spurring some employment opportunities. Local JcPenny's Store Manager Lois Rainero says she hired 10-percent more employees to handle back to school sales. She says those workers will stay on part-time even after the school shopping season.

Statewide, 55-percent of the state's retailers expect back-to-school sales will drop or be on par with last year's numbers.

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