Retailers still target school shoppers

By Paul Gores | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MILWAUKEE – The kids are back at school, but from a retailer’s point of view, the back-to-school season isn’t quite finished.
For another week or so, sales tallied up at department stores and other retailers will figure into how well the 2011 season went.
A survey by the National Retail Federation found 2.6 percent of families do their shopping after school starts and 9.4 percent of college shoppers hit the stores after they’re back in class.
“The one trend we have been seeing is buying closer to need,” said Erika Maschmeyer, a retail analyst for Robert W. Baird amp& Co. “Maybe 10 years ago, back-to-school was more of a July and August phenomenon. Now it’s really more August and September.”
But generally, so far, so good. Same-store sales for August showed chain stores gained more than 5 percent for the month, driven largely by back-to-school shoppers.
Analysts noted that higher-end chains have been doing better than stores frequented by the masses.
“They’ve been doing well all year,” John Collopy, director of research for Carl M. Hennig Inc., said of the more-expensive apparel and accessory retailers. “You still have a lot of people working and a lot people making pretty good wages.”
But the middle class and below continue to watch their dollars closely in an uncertain economy.
“There’s a psychology right now of people looking around at what’s transpired over the last two to three years,” Collopy said. “When you have high unemployment, you have concern by those who are working, ‘Gee, are we going to get lopped off here?’ So there’s going to be some hesitancy.”