Back-to-school shoppers hope to cut spending in slow economy
Mary Phinney says her daughter will have to live with jeans from Aeropostale instead of American Eagle.
With her two children in tow this week at the Westgate Mall in Brockton, Mass., the Holbrook , Mass., mom faced a $20 price difference between jeans sold at the casual apparel stores.
Maybe last year she would have caved. But this year, like many parents around the country, Phinney is tightening her back-to-school shopping budget amid a tough economy.
“We’re buying everything on sale,” she said.
She’s certainly not the only one. Most consumers are expected to spend less and stick to discount stores this shopping season, reported a recent study.
Concerns about higher food and fuel costs have prompted 71 percent of 5,035 shoppers surveyed to scale back their back-to-school shopping, according to a survey released by global consulting firm Deloitte.
And according to a separate survey of 1,000 parents in early July by America’s Research Group, nearly a third of parents said they expected to spend less this year on back-to-school shopping.
Mary Phinney considers herself somewhat fortunate — her children attend private school and stick mostly to uniforms.
But not everyone is able to cut back.
Michele Alexander of Easton, Mass., has three young daughters to ready for the school year, and spent the afternoon bargain hunting between Old Navy and Claire’s Accessories.
“I don’t know if we’re going to spend less, but I’m definitely paying attention to prices more,” Alexander said. “Before, we’d just go and do it.”
Sure, Randolph, Mass., mother of two Carmen Duran would like to spend less, but she is working against nature.
“They grow every year — 24 hours a day!” she cried out before trudging into the mall with two children scurrying behind.
These discrepancies between large consumer surveys and actual shopping behavior come as no surprise to local economist Jon Bryan.
“While they are a little downbeat about job prospects and the high price of fuel, I think the American consumer remains really optimistic,” said Bryan, a professor at Bridgewater State College’s School of Business.
“As long as the consumer has access to credit and credit cards, they will spend,” he said.
Meanwhile, local retailers are keeping a stiff upper lip.
“Just because the economy’s bad doesn’t mean it’s bad everywhere,” said Meredith Thorson, who opened Rock Reunion Clothing on Belmont Street on Brockton’s West Side two weeks ago.
“Maybe people don’t buy as many coffees and take less vacations, but they still buy jeans,” she said. “We’ll live through it.”
Shannon Hollis, manager of the Westgate Mall juniors clothing store Tello’s, said her store is relying on deep discounts to lure in customers.
“We’re hoping to meet last year or go beyond,” she said. “That’s all you can do with the way things are.”
The store is offering sales on “basics,” she said, such as two T-shirts for $10.
Local Staples stores have slashed prices even deeper for the back-to-school crowd, advertising free 2-pocket paper folders with an instant rebate and various notebooks from 5 cents to 50 cents.
“Getting the consumer in the door is a large step for a large box store today,” said Bryan, the BSC professor.
Jessica Scarpati can be reached email@example.com.