Forget Black Friday — Here Comes ‘Back-to-School Saturday’

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Eric Thayer / Reuters

Customers take the escalator as they shop at a Toys "R" Us store in New York.

We already have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Presidents Day Sales, July 4th Promotions and about every “car sales event” you can think of. So it only makes sense that someone finally came up with the idea of Back-to-School Saturday.

Teen Vogue magazine is promoting August 11 as a national day of back-to-school shopping. Already a number of participating retailers have signed on, including Aeropostale, American Eagle, Cover Girl, Maybelline, Pantene and Staples.

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The promotions will rely heavily on social media, using the hashtag #btss, and even though school just ended for the summer, the campaign has already unveiled ads saying, “Get ready, get set, get shopping!”

None of this should be surprising. Just look at Black Friday, which has become so successful that some day-after-Thanksgiving sales now start in September. What’s almost more surprising is that there hasn’t been a back-to-school shopping holiday before now, considering virtually every American family with kids buys back-to-school supplies.

Those at Teen Vogue noticed that most back-to-school shopping is done over a two- or three-month period, and they found an opening. According to The New York Times: “The Aug. 11 date was selected as one that could be turned into a ‘galvanizing moment,’” as a vice president for Teen Vogue put it.

Some of the retailers involved will promote special offers around the day. Staples will offer a $10 Back to School Savings Pass, which will get students and parents 15% off school supplies “for the rest of the season.”

The shopping holiday is taking cues from the invention of another consumer event: Fashion’s Night Out, a nationwide shopping event introduced by another magazine – Vogue – that has been very successful and has grown each year.

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As consumer spending continues to lag, retailers seem to think that the only way to get people shopping is through “shopping events.” And it works. Consumers spent tens of billions of dollars in the five days surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The mindset of only shopping when there’s something akin to a “sales event” seems to be one of the reasons JCPenney’s “fair and square” strategy is failing. Without the enticement of a sale or massive discounts, why would shoppers visit?

Another reason these sorts of spending holidays are being invented: shopping momentum. Once we start purchasing, we often don’t know how to stop. Studies have shown that after we buy that first item, the spending floodgates open. Also, be aware that these Back-to-School specials might not actually save you any money. Many of the biggest discounts around Black Friday actually arrive days after the main event.

So while Back-to-School Saturday could yield a few good deals, make sure you go into the store knowing exactly what you or your son or daughter needs. And don’t be surprised if in a few years we’ll be talking about Back-to-School September instead of Back-to-School Saturday.

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