Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Purchases for School Sluggish as Economic Woes Persist

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Purchases for School Sluggish as Economic Woes Persist

Article excerpt

Samantha Paradise is starting eighth grade in New York City in a couple of weeks, but she won't be decked out in new gear on the first day.

At 13, Samantha doesn't want to be stuck with untrendy items, so she will wait to see if the Superga sneakers that were cool at summer camp are still in fashion, and whether her classmates choose JanSport backpacks or revive the Longchamp and LeSportsac bags from last year. "I don't want to be the only one wearing a different kind of backpack," she said.

In a shift that is upending retailers' plans, many children, teenagers and their parents are delaying their school purchases. A desire to get the trends right accounts for some of the hesitation. But retailers and analysts say the sluggish economy and unusually hot weather have also made for a surprisingly slow start to the back- to-school spending season, one that was expected to be the strongest since before the recession.

If people do not go to stores once schools start, it will be bad news for an economy heavily dependent on consumer spending to stay afloat. And the postponed spending is complicating how stores stock, promote and sell their back-to-school items, some of which have been on the shelves for almost two months.

Charles M. Holley Jr., chief financial officer of Wal-Mart, said stores were seeing customers "wait until school starts, and they don't buy things until they absolutely have to." Office Depot's head of retail, Juan Guerrero, said many shoppers were even holding off on buying staples such as pens and notebooks.

"People are waiting for deals to occur," Mr. Guerrero said.

The consequences could be serious if sales do not rebound. The back-to-school season is the second-largest sales period for retailers, after the Christmas holiday season, and it offers a firm reason for shoppers to head to stores. Beyond the profits retailers make from back-to-school sales, what is popular and what is not provides an important barometer as they prepare for the holidays.

Earlier this month, when the National Retail Federation surveyed consumers with school-age children, less than 8 percent had completed their back-to-school shopping, the lowest figure in four years. …

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