Back-to-school sales boost retailers

by Wally Northway

Published: September 15,2010

Tags: education, retail

WASHINGTON — The back-to-school shopping season finished on a positive note as retailers’ aggressive promotions and state sales tax holidays helped lure families into the stores last month.

According to the National Retail Federation, August retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose 0.5 percent seasonally adjusted over July and increased 3.0 percent unadjusted over last year.

NRF’s 2010 Back to School survey, released in July, found the average family planned to spend $606.40 on apparel, shoes, electronics and supplies for children in grades K-12 while average spending on college students was expected to reach $616.13. Back-to-school spending was forecast to hit $55.12 billion this year, far surpassing 2009 levels

“Most Americans are in a much better financial position than a year ago, but they are still spending cautiously, looking for bargains and comparing prices before buying,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “After leveraging aggressive promotions to bring in back-to-school shoppers, retailers are putting the finishing touches on promotions and pricing for the upcoming holiday season.”

August retail sales figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted over July and increased 3.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“While the underlying trends remain positive, shoppers are still focused on getting their finances in order,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “The challenge for retailers is to convince consumers that the recession is over and to buy accordingly.”

Led by traditional back-to-school categories, retail sales across the board showed strength. Clothing and clothing accessory stores sales increased a solid 1.6 percent seasonally adjusted and a 3.0 percent unadjusted over last year. Sales at health and personal care stores sales increased 0.6 percent seasonally adjusted over July and 2.2 percent unadjusted over last August.

Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores sales increased 0.9 percent seasonally adjusted over July and 4.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Building material and garden equipment stores sales were flat from last month and increased a strong 6.6 percent unadjusted from last August.

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