The Girls Put Off Shopping for School

Discussion
Jul 25, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


The girls, or “Eight Wonders of the World,” as I sometimes refer to them, went shopping this weekend.


The girls in question include my daughter and seven of her closest friends (ages 13 and 14). Off they went (they always travel in packs) on what seems to be their weekly shopping trip, although I’m told by adult female sources that it is actually less frequent than that.


Anyway, following the excursion, the girls reconvened at our “way too small” house in Cranford, New Jersey to review their purchases. There were bathing suits, shorts, and various other items that seemed just perfect for, well, now.


I asked why they hadn’t spent any of their hard-earned money and gift cards (after all, birthdays and other gift giving holidays only come around once a year) on clothes or other items for back-to-school?


One particularly sophisticated consumer said, “Mr. Anderson, there are great deals on this stuff (summer items) now. All we need for school is a new outfit for the first couple of days. We can get other stuff after that because there will be more sales.”


Another chimed in, “A lot of the school stuff can be worn when the weather gets colder. We won’t need that when school starts. My mom will buy me binders and other stuff I definitely need for school.”


There it was, right out of the mouths of babes, so to speak. These kids, just as many other consumers, have gotten it in their minds that it makes sense to make purchases when it fits their schedule and not one determined by retailers.


The phenomenon, which has become particularly prevalent right after the Christmas holiday, may be spreading to the back-to-school season if the “Eight Wonders of the World” are any indication.


A study by The NPD Group doesn’t back that hypothesis up, but it does show that some consumers are delaying purchases for back-to-school.


Last year, according to NPD, 43 percent of shoppers had begun buying for back-to-school before August 1. This year, that number has dropped three points to 40 percent.


NPD chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen told Reuters the lack of early season traffic is because “[t]here are no must-have items this season. Nothing is really incentivizing the consumer to say ‘I need to start shopping now’.”


Mr. Cohen said retailers should not expect a blockbuster back-to-school season this year.


“When you take the fact that there’s no rush to the store and when you take the fact that the wallet is a little bit skimpier than it was last year … I say we’re going to see stability, we’re not going to see growth,” in sales, he said.


The National Retail Federation (NRF) has predicted significant growth in back-to-school sales this year. According to a study conducted by BIGresearch for the association, spending will jump for the average household with kids going back-to-school from $443.7 in 2005 to $527.08, this year.  Total spending for the season is expected to climb to $17.6 billion versus $13.4 billion in 2005. 


Discussion Questions: What do you see as the factors behind consumers putting off back-to-school purchases this year?
Do you see a similar pattern to what is happening around the Christmas holiday season?


It should be noted that the individual members of the “Eight Wonders of the World” may not necessarily plan on spending more of their parent’s money on
back-to-school items this year, they do believe they can get more “stuff” by shopping for the best deals beginning the weekend after. (I won’t be driving that weekend.)

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12 Comments on "The Girls Put Off Shopping for School"


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Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
14 years 7 months ago

It’s tough to hypothesize when the question comes from the one with first hand experience, but I would believe much of the back to school shopping is being delayed this year because of the rise in other costs. George, your experience may contradict this and it is really not clear how much of the girl’s money was coming from their own earnings vs. allowances and gifts. As far as the general population, while the heat may have driven some to the malls the cost of gasoline has certainly impacted budgets. The easiest thing to do before you actually stop purchasing things is to “trade down.” Whether this means actually buying cheaper brands or timing your purchases differently will be an individual decision.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Front page headline: Kids Learn In Retail Stores Not Just In School. And their parents learn, too. It doesn’t pay to buy in advance if you pay more, since there will be a great selection at a lower price later. Every retailer is 100% opposed to out-of-stocks, and every retailer seems to run sales all the time, so why buy in advance? Furthermore, almost all nonfood items are imported from emerging market nations, so there’s no price inflation. In the bad old days, when inflation mattered and out-of-stocks were common, people learned to shop early for the best selection.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 7 months ago

My guess is that the delay in back to school buying is largely due to financial reasons and time constraints. And with more consumers buying on line, there is no rush to get school clothing now. Since it seems that “everything you need is everywhere you look”, savvy shoppers can shop around and wait for the best sales at a time that is convenient to them.

I say “enjoy the summer” and don’t rush it.

Suzy Teele
Guest
Suzy Teele
14 years 7 months ago

As one who lives in a seasonal region, my kids don’t want to buy sweaters and jeans in the middle of the summer. Kids are enjoying their summer vacation and don’t want to be reminded that it will be over in 4-6 weeks.

I think the retailers place seasonal fashion merchandise in stores much too quickly. I can barely find shorts and t-shirts in my local stores, and there are no bathing suits to be found. Summer merchandise should be cleared out in August, not June.

Leon Nicholas
Guest
Leon Nicholas
14 years 7 months ago

A quick rejoinder to Bill and Mark: Disposable income, in aggregate and per capita, is actually up around 4% over last year. Same with avg. weekly earnings. And unemployment is at 4.6%. That’s not to say that gas (and home heating pre-pay) prices aren’t meaningful, but a big reason why the NRF and others are forecasting sales gains in q3 is because economic fundamentals are strong.

Lisa Everitt
Guest
Lisa Everitt
14 years 7 months ago

In Colorado, most kids head back to school in August, so I arm them with a self-esteem-boosting new shirt or outfit, new sneakers and whatever supplies the school requires and they just keep on wearing their summer shorts and skirts until it’s cold enough to think about long pants and a winter coat. The biggest expense we face every fall is the two large checks (and many small ones) I write to the schools for textbook fees, technology fees, activity fees, supply fees, choir music, yearbook, PTA dues…and this is for public school, without tuition in the mix.

Having said that, I must note that I spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon shopping for back-to-school outfits with my 11-year-old daughter. We bought a jacket and a pair of jeans that won’t be seasonally appropriate until mid-fall…but ironically, we were in Target because it was too dang hot to do anything else.

Kids are expensive but they sure are fun.

Carissa Luch
Guest
Carissa Luch
14 years 7 months ago

Do retailers not understand how busy summers are for kids now? Most kids don’t sit around the house any more. My teens haven’t been home more than a week total this summer, as they have been at resident camps (church, band, etc). Try to buy for clothes or any other supplies for someone who is absent. “Just in time” is a driving force behind purchasing of back to school items — and no one has the time (or inclination) to think about school needs 3-5 weeks in advance! Retailers need to better meet the shoppers’ needs rather than trying to be first out of the gate.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 7 months ago

Kids today are both smart and greedy. They develop purchasing battle plans that serve their personalized agendas. They want things that are contemporary, self-oriented, “sweet” and well-timed. This year’s delayed BTS buying is a by-product of that phenomenon…and purchases this Christmas may be too.

Lacey Anderson
Guest
Lacey Anderson
14 years 7 months ago

With the fashion industry entering a transition period in clothing style, i.e. the switch from bootcut jeans/pants to skinny jeans/pants, I think specifically teen girls will be waiting to see if the transition is moving into their market before purchasing the wrong items for school. This fashion transition will be a factor in the back-to-school purchasing plans, as well as the notion that desired items will be on sale coinciding with changes in weather later into fall.

Don Van Zandt
Guest
Don Van Zandt
14 years 7 months ago
Several comments here: More and more schools seem to be moving to uniforms or a “uniform dress code” that takes shopping for BTS fashion out of the mix. Mass Market Retailers are now on the way out of summer via the clearance aisle – News Flash! It will be “summer” temperatures in Texas and the South for the next 3 1/2 months. My oldest daughter will wait for sales and or seasonal clearance for a large majority of her wardrobe and my wife does the same thing for the two youngest. Even at the department store, I find the selection at the end of season clearance is more than adequate, (particularly given savings approaching 70% off). Retailers no longer drive the market by their sales and seasonal conversion timing. I bought many 2006 Christmas items in January at 50+% off. I expect my ’06 Christmas expenditures this year will be even less. I’m not buying less, I’m paying less and shifting the timing to get the best price for what I buy. Blame the retailer… Read more »
Bill Bishop
Guest
Bill Bishop
14 years 7 months ago

The delay of purchases must reflect the increased pressure on disposable income, i.e., as Mark suggested, why pay more when there’s no advantage?

I also suspect that it may reflect a ratcheting down of the breadth of shopping as a recreational sport, i.e., Wendy Liebmann reported last week that women are just not shopping as many different stores as they used to.

If this proves to be true, shoppers will be operating on their own schedules, and this will be remarkable only because many retailers are lagging behind in their interpretation of how to serve contemporary shopping needs.

One of the key lessons from the new GMDC study on Seasonal Merchandising Best Practices is that best-practice retailers are increasingly finding ways to anticipate and serve the new tempo of shopping, and my guess is we’ll see some rapid adjustments over the next year.

Leon Nicholas
Guest
Leon Nicholas
14 years 7 months ago

I can see a BTS delay in apparel purchasing, but I’m not seeing it happen in electronics/entertainment and back-to-college buying — where more and more of the focus has been.

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