Stores hope tax-free days will boost sales

Kansas City StarAugust 3, 2012 

Back-to-school sales are expected to be strong this year, but that doesn’t mean the economy will get a passing grade.

Sales this season will be driven by parents who cut back last year to the point where they now have to shell out money to replace worn-out jeans and outmoded computers.

There also are substantially more school-age children this year after flat numbers for several years, according to the National Retail Federation. But parents have other incentives to open their wallets.

Missouri’s sales tax holiday kicks off today and runs through Sunday, saving consumers nearly 10 percent in sales taxes—– depending on what city and county they shop in — on purchases of apparel, computers and some other items, whether they’re a student or not.

Retailers also are rolling out deals in conjunction with the holiday and other promotions. For example, Crazy 8, a boys and girls fashion store in Legends Outlets Kansas City in Kansas City, Kan., will start its grand opening weekend today, handing out more than $3,000 in gift cards and prizes, including a $588 Crazy 8 gift card on Sunday.

In honor of its open house this weekend, area Sam’s Club stores are waiving a 10 percent service fee for non-members on all of their purchases.

OfficeMax has teamed up with Old Navy to provide customers with deals for shopping at both stores. Customers who buy their school supplies at OfficeMax through Aug. 15 will get a coupon for $10 off a $50 purchase at any Old Navy store.

The deal also works the other way — through Aug. 22, Old Navy back-to-school customers will get coupons for $10 off a $40 purchase at OfficeMax.

On Sunday, the first 70,000 Old Navy customers across the country will get a “back-to-school gift,” along with OfficeMax coupons with a $50 minimum in-store purchase.

OfficeMax is also teaming up with Topeka-based Payless ShoeSource for additional discounts from Aug. 17 to Sept. 1.

But consumers may not need too much encouragement to spend.

The Consumer Confidence Index in July increased to 65.9 from 62.7 percent in June, the first increase in five months and better than the 62 economists had forecast. But it is still well below 90, which indicates a healthy economy.

July sales were up at chain stores (excluding drugstores) by 4.6 percent, compared to the same period in 2011, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That was the strongest monthly gain since March.

Other retailers, from Target to Macy’s, on Thursday reported single-digit sales growth in July.

Weaver’s, a 155-year-old department store in Lawrence, said sales have been increasing since 2010. Sales slowed somewhat in July, but the retailer blamed that on the unusually high temperatures. Sales have been good in men’s apparel, housewares, cosmetics, footwear and accessories, said Joe Flannery, president of Weaver’s Inc. Women’s apparel sales have been flat.

“There are so many choices everywhere,” Flannery said.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, parents started school shopping earlier this year, spreading out their spending. Those who made do last school season will have to replenish this season, raising average spending from $603.63 in 2011 to $688.62 this year.

Total spending is expected to reach $30.3 billion. Combined kindergarten to college spending is expected to reach $83.8 billion, making it the second-biggest consumer spending event for retailers, after the December holiday season.

On average, parents will spend about $246.10 on clothing and $217.88 on electronics, including computers, MP3 players and smartphones.

The majority of shoppers will have the economy and their budgets in mind when deciding where and how to shop this season.

Still, more than half of the shoppers surveyed said they will hit a department store for their private labels and exclusive products — the most since the federation began the survey in 2003. Consumers also will hit discounters, specialty shops, office supply stores and electronic stores.

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