Back-to-school shoppers expected to spend less this year

By Jamison Cocklin


Consumers in Ohio and across the country are expected to contend with higher prices this year as they shop for back-to-school supplies.

With the academic year fast approaching, some major retailers already have started to roll out sales, while others will begin offering deals this week at malls and other shopping locations across the country.

Several surveys show that consumers are expected to spend less this year than they did last.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the economy grew at a better-than- expected annual rate of 1.7 percent from April through June — up from 1.1 percent in the first quarter.

Yet, though businesses increased their spending, auto sales reached their highest level since 2007, and spending on home construction continued to move upward, consumer spending stayed flat.

“The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind,” said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation, in a statement. “Having splurged on their growing children’s needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season.”

Employers added an average of 202,000 jobs a month from January through June — an improvement from 180,000 in the six months before that time. But high unemployment and borrowing costs, coupled with volatile gas prices, have consumer confidence restrained for now.

Even though it remains above last year’s levels, the Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer- confidence index hit a low point not seen since January 2008.

The National Retail Federation, in its annual back-to-school survey, said consumers will spend an average of $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics this year. That’s down from $688.62 for the same items in 2012.

Many will turn to the Internet to save money, with about 37 percent planning to search for the best prices online.

More than half of the 5,635 consumers surveyed, though, plan on shopping at department stores and popular clothing outlets.

Major retailers in the Youngstown area, such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney, have started back-to-school sales. Grove City Premium Outlets in Pennsylvania kicked off a fall preview and back-to-school sale Thursday that will run through today.

Joe Bell, spokesman for the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles, said this week marks the beginning of the season for many retailers there. On Saturday, the mall will host an event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. when nonprofits, businesses and retailers will showcase their back-to-school services and new supplies. A fashion show will take place at 1 p.m.

The National Retail Federation’s survey said about 95 percent of the back-to-school shoppers surveyed will spend most of their money on new apparel and accessories. About 24 percent of families have started their back-to-school shopping with more than half planning to go sometime during the three weeks before schools starts.

Columbus-based Huntington National Bank’s Backpack Index found that the price of school supplies has increased by 7.3 percent since last year. That growth is well above inflation — the rate at which prices for goods and services rise in comparison with purchasing power.

Huntington found that elementary-school students will pay $577 and middle-school students will pay $763 for back-to-school supplies, an increase of 5.3 percent since last year. High-school students will pay $1,223 for supplies, or 9.5 percent more than they did last year.

The National Retail Federation estimates that back-to-school and back-to- college spending will reach $72.5 billion nationwide this year.

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