Looking Ahead to the Back-to-School Season

Although perhaps not dramatically, the back-to-school season is expected to give independent retailers a lift, according to a report coming out of the Reuters Consumer and Retails Summit in New York. Since it is traditionally the second-biggest sales period of the year, retailers have been hoping for a bit of a boost from it. The general consensus seems to be that there will indeed be an improvement over the 2009 back-to-school season, just not as strong an improvement as many may be looking for.

“I don’t think the consumer’s mindset is going to be much different in terms of being value-conscious,” Newell Rubbermaid CMO Ted Woehrle said at the summit.

School districts have been passing along more of their purchases onto parents in recent years. But even OfficeMax, one of the largest office suppliers in the U.S., is maintaining a wait-and-see attitude.

“I think a year back isn’t so much different for the consumers of back-to-school,” said OfficeMax COO Sam Martin. “Unemployment is still very high. There is still a lot of pressure on home mortgages. There is still a lot of pressure on consumer debt.”

Another potential issue is the relative lack of new summer jobs for teens created this year. Since teens are more apt to spend their pay as they receive it, as opposed to adults who save more, that translates to a lot less income put into the marketplace. A Challenger, Gray & Christmas report indicates that the summer job market for teens is experiencing its slowest start in more than 40 years, with only 6,000 new jobs for teens created in May, as opposed to 111,000 openings in May 2009. The fact that a lot of summer jobs this year were filled by non-teens could mean less money put into disposable income.