Gary Dinges / Austin American Statesman – Aug. 08–Bargain hunters of all ages swarmed Central Texas stores Friday, the first day of the state’s tax-free weekend.
Through Sunday, retailers aren’t charging state and local sales taxes on most clothing and school supplies priced less than $100. In most cities, including Austin, that means shoppers will save 8.25 cents for each dollar they spend.
Over the course of the three-day weekend, the state comptroller’s office estimates Texans will save $82.7 million.
At the Tech Ridge JCPenney, located at 12351 N. Interstate 35 in North Austin, shoppers showed up as early as 9 a.m. The store was ready, manager Melanie Wergin said, with all merchandise in the stockroom moved to the sales floor, extra registers and additional employees, including some seasonal workers hired specifically for back-to-school season.
“It’s all hands on deck,” said Wergin, who has worked for the retailer for 28 years. “Tax-free weekend is our second busiest time of year. Only Black Friday beats it.”
Top sellers, according to Wergin, typically include jeans, shoes, socks and underwear — for children and adults, too.
“Tax-free weekend isn’t just for the kids,” she said. “We have a lot of adults taking advantage of it, as well. It’s really a great benefit for the entire family.”
JCPenney, like many retailers, has placed many items on sale, hoping to appeal to cost-conscious consumers like Josue Arriaga.
“I’m out every year during tax-free weekend,” said Arriaga, who was shopping for shirts Friday afternoon at the Tech Ridge JCPenney. “The deals are really, really good.”
Marking down prices is a wise idea, according to retail consultant Jeff Green.
“People this year are really price-focused,” said Green, president and CEO of Jeff Green Partners. “Retailers are all going after the same dollar, so a lot of their back-to-school marketing is focused on low prices.”
Discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Target used to be the go-to stores for many back-to-school shoppers, Green said, but that’s not the case anymore. Drugstores, in particular, are getting more aggressive, he said. Even Bed, Bath and Beyond is getting in on the action, rolling out a back-to-college registry where students can list the items they need for their dorm rooms.
“They all want to be the first stop,” Green said. “The first store shoppers head to is going to be where they spend most of their money.”
The average family will spend $669.29 on back-to-school items this year, according to the National Retail Federation. Combined, back-to-school and back-to-college spending are expected to hit $74.9 billion.
The National Retail Federation said a significant chunk of that money — perhaps as much as a third — will go towards electronics, even though they’re not included in the state’s tax-free weekend. That’s why stores such as Office Depot and OfficeMax are offering steep discounts on items such as laptops, in addition to selling marked-down school supplies, such as 10-cent composition books.
The newly merged stores were selling an HP laptop for $229.99 on Friday, in addition to offering $100 off selected printers. Graphing calculators and headphones were also on sale.
“Tech does very well during the tax-free shopping events,” said Julianne Embry, senior manager of public relations for Office Depot Inc. “Our shelves are fully stocked with items for the entire back-to-school shopping season. We want to make sure our customers find everything they need while shopping in our stores or on our website this weekend.”
Many stores are opening early and closing late Saturday and Sunday, including JCPenney, Kohl’s, Sears, Macy’s and Dillard’s. Several shopping centers are extending hours, as well, including Barton Creek Square mall, Lakeline Mall, Round Rock Premium Outlets and San Marcos Premium Outlets.
Retailers say midday tends to be the busiest time of day and encourage people looking to avoid crowds to shop early in the morning or late at night. Don’t wait too long, though, Green cautioned.
“Inventory levels are really tight right now at most stores,” he said. “They’re not buying as much. If you wait until the last minute, you might not find everything you need.”