You’ve barely gotten used to the kids being off from school, and you probably haven’t even taken a summer vacation yet. So the fact that back-to-school shopping season has begun may seem annoying. And the idea that stores are already pushing shoppers to get into the Christmas shopping frenzy? That’s doubly annoying.
What’s the big rush? In the retail world, stores will do almost anything to get a jump on the competition and attract shoppers. Even as many consumers roll their eyes at the ultra-early sales, others think Deal! and How great! This year I can get all my shopping out of the way early.
That’s why the current Staples weekly ad, for instance, is loaded with back-to-school promotions—including lots of specially priced $1 items (five-packs of Sharpies, mini staplers, four-packs of glue sticks, two-packs of kids’ scissors), and even a few 1¢ deals (Staples glue, eight-pack of Bic pens) when you purchase $5 or more. To ensure customers come back for more, Staples is also selling Back to School Savings Passes; you pay $10 and get an extra 15% off school supplies, backpacks, and calculators now through September 17.
Staples is hardly the only retailer already beating the back-to-school drum. As USA Today reported, stores like Office Depot, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart have launched back-to-school sales of their own.
And why is it that retailers are so pushy, so averse to allowing consumers to live in the moment and you know, get their back-to-school shopping done within a couple weeks of when kids actually go back to school? Some insight from the USA Today story:
“If they can put the sale on and beat the competition to the punch, retailers can get consumers to buy before they normally would,” says Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group.
Pushing consumers to shop earlier is plainly good for business. Retailers know that many shoppers who earnestly try to get their shopping done well in advance to avoid chaotically buying everything on their child’s list the night before school starts will wind up shopping during the last-minute frenzy as well. So the stores get shoppers to buy early, and possibly often and late as well—and all along, while they’re shopping for school supplies, consumers are also checking out other tempting, non-school-related goods as well. It’s a win-win for retailers, especially retailers like Staples; one of its executives told USA Today:
“Back-to-school for us is just another Christmas,” says Jevin Eagle, marketing chief.
Speaking of which, Christmas shopping is already in consumers’ faces as well.
This Friday, Target is hosting an online-only Back in Black Friday sale. Specifics haven’t been announced, but sneak peeks are expected throughout the week, including 40% or 50% off a limited selection of TVs, toys, clothing, furniture, and more.
Minyanville reflects that several retailers’ Christmas-in-July promotions have proved underwhelming—from the consumer and business standpoint—in recent years, and that it looks like Sears and Kmart, which embraced the strategy not long ago, aren’t going to bother with them this year. That’s not stopping Target, nor QVC, which hosts an annual Christmas sale toward the end of every July.
Before doing any winter shopping in the middle of summer, however, realize that a price point that seems like a deal now may be overpaying in a few months. That’s especially likely when it comes to technology. TV prices have been plummeting month after month, and that goes even for 3-D TVs. Retrevo notes that a year ago, a 3-D TV cost about $950 more than a standard 2-D TV, but that in July 2011, the price premium is down to about $400. By the heart of winter holiday shopping season, that gap between the price of a 2-D and 3-D TV could be a mere $150.