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It’s Deal or No Deal for Back-to-School Shoppers

More than 40 percent of back-to-school purchases to date have been influenced by the promise of some kind of discount. This could explain explain why some sales have been delayed this year.

The National Retail Federation/Prosper Insights & Analytics survey found that as of early August, the average family with a school-aged child had only purchased 45 percent of the goods they need to send their kids back to class. That’s the lowest level since 2012 and far below the 52 percent peak in 2013.

Those headed back to college campuses, were also only 45 percent done with their shopping, compared to a peak of 54 percent during 2014 and it’s the lowest level since 2011.

“Parents this year have been taking longer than usual to finish buying the clothing and supplies their children need for school,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retailers have some great bargains to offer, but parents better take advantage of them before the school bell rings.”

While the deals might be out there now, Neil Saunders, managing director and retail analyst at Globaldata Retail, said stores had been stingy with the markdowns until recently. After working hard to put themselves in a better inventory position, retailers were attempting to hold onto their pledges to kick the markdown habit. Consumers had other ideas.

“Retailers started the seasons a little more full in terms of price and and not discounting quite as heavily. All that happened is consumers held out and refused to buy, and now retailers have had to resort back to discounting quite heavily to sell through the product,” Saunders said.

[Read more about parent’s BTS plans: Deloitte: Department Store BTS Sales to Drop by 26% in 2017]

More than 40 percent of shoppers are now on the lookout for coupons, while 33 percent want in-store promotions and 29 percent could be swayed by newspaper ads.

With consumers holding onto their purse strings in protest, retailers became antsy. “Once one retailer starts to go heavy in terms of promotions, everyone else has to join in because if you don’t, you tend to lose out,” Saunders said.

The good news is the percentage of consumers with school-aged kids shopping for apparel is up this year to 75 percent, from 70 percent last year.

The question though is whether retailers will be able to pull back on markdowns for holiday now that back-to-school shoppers got the upper hand this fall.