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Lessons from back-to-school season offer insight into changing consumer habits

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I’ve always loved shopping for school supplies. Growing up, I got to help my mom pick out the new stickers, blackboard banners and marker sets for her third grade classroom. Before I had kids, I’d fill art boxes with newly sharpened pencils and scissors for the local school drive sponsored at my neighborhood grocery store. These days, I actually have lists to shop from when I head to the store. But the landscape has changed.

For one, school supply promotions start hitting the mailbox not long after we’ve put away the 4th of July decorations. Too much of a good thing and we all start to lose interest.

There’s a lot of competition, too. Pencils and paper from Target, Kroger, Staples or Toys “R” Us. New outfits from JCPenney, Macy’s or Children’s Place. It’s enough to make any parent consider taking a week’s worth of vacation just to stock up.

According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) latest Back-to-School and College surveys, conducted by BIGresearch, the economy is still having an impact on shoppers’ habits. This translates into parents who are willing to spend on things their kids actually need but save on those items that can be reused or last a little longer. So retailers will have to fight a little harder for some of those sales. One of the best ways to grab them? Think value incentives. While consumers were all about getting the best deal in 2009, two years later they’re looking for value more than price, reports the NRF. Extra incentives or add-ons – such as a free water bottle with lunch box purchase or one-year warranty on electronics – are just some of the ways to please.

And keep those shelves stocked. This year, 31.2 percent of parents are waiting to make their purchases one to two weeks before that first bell rings, up from 24.8 percent last year.

School-supply sales are often a forecaster to the make-or-break holiday season and retailers need to pay attention during these next few weeks. Soon enough, we’ll all be shopping from another list and the lessons learned this month could be as useful as a new eraser on top of a freshly sharpened no. 2 pencil.
 

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