Stores roll out back-to-school bargains
Jaclyn Trop / The Detroit News
Retailers are expecting back-to-school spending to rise for the first time in three years and are jockeying for extra purchases with promotions aplenty.
“It is really still about deals,” said Karen Pevenstein, a spokeswoman for Staples, the office supply store. “We recognize that everyone is watching their wallet.”
Several retailers, from Office Depot to Meijer, are angling for their share of back-to-school sales with items priced under $1, including folders, notebooks and colored pencils.
Staples, for example, is offering weekly “Hot Buys” that feature items priced at a penny.
Meijer shoppers will find several items on classroom shopping lists for less than a quarter, such as a two-pack of Elmer’s glue for 19 cents.
“Stores are required to offer the absolute lowest prices because that’s really the new normal: rock-bottom prices for basic school supplies,” Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi said.
“I’m liking these prices,” said Sherlonda Stephens of Pontiac as she shopped at Meijer for school items for her sixth-grade twin granddaughters. “Every time I set a budget, I go over.”
Nationally, spending per family is expected to rise 10.5 percent this year, with families plunking down an estimated average of $606.40 on school supplies, clothing and electronics, compared with $548.72 last year, according to the National Retail Federation. The back-to-school shopping season usually lasts from mid-July through the first week of September and is the second-busiest retail period of the year following November and December.
Chicago-based retail analyst ShopperTrak predicts school-related product sales nationwide will increase 3.5 percent compared with last year’s 4.9 percent drop.
But these estimates may be overly optimistic, other analysts said. Shoppers are still scrutinizing circulars and sticker prices, they said.
“The fundamentals of the economy haven’t changed much over the last year,” said Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners.
Employment levels are not much higher than they were last year, he said. Traditionally spendthrift teens unable to find summer jobs are likely to buy less this year.
Still, the economy has improved enough for consumers to pay attention to style and trends, unlike last year when shoppers snapped up the bare essentials and tried to do without many items.
“Last year, retailers were selling to Mom and Dad, and the wallet was the focus,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at New York-based consulting firm NPD Group. “Now the kids are getting more involved.”
Staples expects designer staplers and eco-conscious supplies to appeal to shoppers with a larger budget.
Office Depot is touting several loss leaders, including two-pocket folders for 5 cents and items such as markers, hand sanitizer and storage crates free after a mail-in rebate, in the hopes of luring shoppers to the store.
“Once they get into the store, they can see the wide arrangement of our fashion products” embellished with glitter, foil or trendy patterns, Office Depot spokeswoman Kelly Beattie said.
Some customers in Metro Detroit are still willing to pay full price, said Connie Bukowski, owner of Cavanaugh’s in Grosse Pointe, where quilted Vera Bradley totes, wallets and duffle bags, which range from $10 to $200, are in demand.
Many Metro Detroiters are getting an early start, shopping for items before the lists of must-buy items even arrive from their school districts.
“We learned from our experience over the last two years,” said Erik Riadi of Sterling Heights, as his 10-year-old son, Dito, added a 50-cent Dodge Viper folder to his shopping cart. “If you wait too long, you have to go to 10 stores looking for things.”