The long years of training in recession management have left their mark. Even as parents prepare to apply their graduate-level skills in making the back-to-school budget go as far as possible, retailers are rolling out of bed early and getting to work on recruiting customers.
Staples' website is offering "Back to school savings just for you"; Target and Macy's have both issued releases detailing their promotions scheduled for the next several weeks; and Office Depot has out-tweened them all with a new collection of products done through an anti-bullying collaboration with the popular boy band One Direction.
Consumers' contribution to the overall U.S. economy is not insignificant and the latest numbers from June show that shoppers seem to be doing their part. Chain-store sales rose 4.1 percent during the month, as compared to the same period a year earlier, representing the strongest gain since January, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
The New York trade group, which tallies monthly results from 13 retailers for sales at stores open at least a year, is projecting that July sales should rise in the range of 3 to 3.5 percent.
"Overall, these data continue to paint an improving picture after a 'softer' first quarter (February-April) and are encouraging as we move into the second fiscal quarter of the year," said Michael P. Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist for the shopping centers group.
Still, the uneven recovery is expected to play a role in parental decisions about what to take to the cash register, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation, which recently released survey results showing 77 percent of families with school-aged children expect the state of the economy to impact their back-to-school spending. That's down from 80 percent last year.
The survey found 25.7 percent will be trying to reuse bookbags, clothes or other goods from the last school year, up from 23.5 percent a year ago.
Almost 37 percent will be trying to find good coupons, down from 38.7 percent a year ago and 40 percent in 2009, according to data that BIGinsight collected on behalf of the retail federation.
In addition to scheduling sale events, Macy's school agenda calls for dressing the cast of the TV show "Pretty Little Liars" during a couple of August episodes, running a contest to send customers to the IHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, and offer a chance at gift cards for those who post photos of kids' first days of school on the retailer's Facebook page.
Target, meanwhile, will be encouraging parents to post Instagram pictures of their kids and tagging Target. It is working on the back-to-college sales season, too, warming up the buses that it has run for more than a decade to make it easy for freshmen at certain colleges to get to its stores. Those events are posted on participating schools' Facebook pages.
Teresa F. Lindeman: email@example.com or at 412-263-2018. First Published July 12, 2013 4:00 AM