National Retail Federation Confirms Existence Of Back-To-School Creep

In 2010, a Consumerist reader found this back-to-school display at a Staples in June.

In 2010, a Consumerist reader found this back-to-school display at a Staples in June.

Last week, we mentioned that even though some schools have just recently finished for the school year, retailers are already beginning their back-to-school promotions. We wondered (and hoped) that this was just an anomaly and that we weren’t seeing evidence of Back-To-School Creep, but people who know a thing or two about the retail business say it’s a growing trend.

“In seven and a half years, I’ve never once seen so much emphasis put on back-to-school before July 4,” a National Retail Federation rep tells AdAge.com about the phenomenon. “It is one of the most competitive times of year for big retailers. They know consumers are on budgets, and they’re vying for those dollars.”

Since the back-to-school season is second only to the holiday shopping season in terms of retail revenue, the idea, theorizes the NRF rep, is to give consumers a chance to spread out their expenditures over a longer time.

Instead of merely waiting until August and then hoping that shoppers spend a lot of money at once, stores are having sales now to sell certain items in June and July with the idea that they’ll come back in August and spend some more, most likely on apparel.

Back in 2010, we found a back-to-school display at a New Jersey Staples that had gone up before schools in nearby New York City had even let out for the year.

At the time, we polled readers about when they thought it was appropriate to put out back-to-school items. Nearly 60% of respondents said to wait until August; around 20% were fine with July back-to-school sales, almost as many as said they didn’t care when stores held the sales; but only 3% said June was okay.

Among those retailers waiting for their big back-to-school push is Amazon, which doesn’t even need to go through the hassle of setting up in-store displays. Visitors to the e-tailer’s back-to-school landing page are greeted with the message “Shopping for back-to-school supplies already? We hate to tell you…you’re early.” And though there are items for sale on the page, it tells shoppers to come back later in July.