School's Out; Shopping's In

Maybe it's me, but when I'm in a retail store or mall I expect to see the back-to-school wares strategically displayed at the front of the store.Although I'm one of a growing number of New Englanders who dread the winter and the cold weather, it's a sense of nostalgia for me. Remember picking out your notebooks, folders, binders and backpacks? It was exciting.


Well we were out on a relatively beautiful summer day buying items to outfit my sister's dorm. Yes she's leaving me and going away to college. Making bittersweet purchases -- comforters, matching pillows, sheets, wall-hanging iPod docks, you name it -- didn't stop me from being a marketer.

It seems all you read or hear about is high gas prices, looming fuel prices, talks of a potential recession. Well it sure as heck didn't look like that driving up to these brick-and-mortar shops, from the small boutiques to the Targets and Ikeas. Finding a parking space that isn't a mile-long schlep is a task in itself.



Because I'm exposed to a good dozen of so 18- and 19-year-olds that are all going off to college, I hear a lot. This back-to-school movement is a big one. It's all the brand chatter. They are posting what they got on Facebook profile pages, customizing their "super walls" with it, looking up other roommates, potential cute boys to size up, anything they can.

They all tell me that they look online before they make a purchase. When I asked them if they bought online, I was surprised to hear that few do. I'm thinking they all of a sudden need to be tactile -- or maybe it's the instant gratification of actually picking something out and having it in hand, versus waiting for it to ship?

Some of them have looked at hard-copy catalogs like West Elm's and Pottery Barn Teen's, then gone to the Web sites. However, they've made purchase offline at Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Goods, Linens 'n' Things, Target and Ikea.

Certainly this represents the 18-year-old crowd. But look around. There are a lot of people back-to-school shopping in brick-and-mortar environments. Why go to Staples to get bags full of items instead of buying them online and most likely getting them shipped for free? I think it really is that the kids want to see, hold and "pick out" their own items versus asking a parent or guardian for a credit card number to make a purchase online. What do you think?

Well, my skepticism in regard to lesser spending seems true. In a recent Deloitte survey as reported in USA Today "Some 83% of those surveyed said they will cut back on clothes spending. Nearly half say they will spend less on shoes, and about one in three will spend less on backpacks."

Other findings include: "A full 90% of consumers say they will change the way they shop for back-to-school items. More say they plan to do back-to-school shopping at dollar stores than at department stores, office supply stores (such as Staples(SPLS)) or off-price stores (such as TJ Maxx (TJX))...

"'It's almost as if we've entered into a new paradigm,' says Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD. In the online survey of 60,000 consumers in June, 55% said they planned to change where they do their back-to-school shopping. Estimates from the National Retail Federation trade group... are expected to be a bit less glum."

So will back-to-school shopping online and/or offline make the grade? Share your thoughts on the Spin blog.

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