Laptops and cool tops: a strong year for U.S. back-to-school shopping

Tue Sep 6, 2016 1:04am EDT
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By Gayathree Ganesan and Subrat Patnaik

(Reuters) - Along with the perennial run on leggings, students returning to America's classrooms this year are making a beeline for retro sneakers, "cold-shoulder" tops, versatile laptops and USB drives.

Demand for those hot-ticket items is helping to push back-to-school spending to its fastest growth in four years, a boon for retailers in their second most important season.

Outdone only by the post-Thanksgiving holiday bonanza, back-to-school shopping for clothing, shoes, electronics and backpacks spans most of the third quarter, from July to September, and is a key driver in the sector's sales and profits.

But while demand is on the rise, retailers still need to work hard to get shoppers in the door with coupons and promotions like special shopping days. An increasing share of parents are Millennials, adept at using technology to find the best deals.

Good weather is playing its part too by coaxing shoppers to malls and department stores such as J.C. Penney (JCP.N: Quote) and Macy's (M.N: Quote), which have endured tough competition from online giant Amazon Inc (AMZN.O: Quote).

Total back-to-school sales rose 2 percent in July, compared with 1 percent growth in 2015 and 2014 and a 0.2 percent rise in 2013, according to payments technology company First Data.

Spending for back-to-school and college is expected to reach $75.8 billion this year, up from last year's $68 billion, according to retail association National Retail Federation's annual survey.

"They (younger shoppers) are getting mom to buy more for them, because they are agreeing to shop at these less expensive lower priced retailers," NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen said.   Continued...

A woman shops for back to school supplies at a Walmart store in San Diego, California, U.S. August 6, 2015.      REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo