Back-To-School Season Was Abject Failure For Retailers

The Back-To-School season is usually the best season for retailers aside from the holidays, but not this year. Retail spending was down for the third consecutive month as shoppers stayed away from stores and ignored bargains.

Sales of automobiles dropped sharply last month, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

Supplies of furniture, electronics and clothing were left sitting in stores, and department stores, where bargain-seekers would usually flock in hard economic times, saw sales fall 1.5 percent. The drop in sales occurred during the back-to-school shopping season, traditionally the biggest time of the year for retailers outside of the December holidays.

So, are you saving money for the holidays or are you just trimming your budgets overall?

Are you telling your kids “no,” when you used to say “yes”?

Large Drop in Retail Sales in September
(Photo: RedandJonny )


Edit Your Comment

  1. mikey07840 says:

    Computer says no.

  2. kathyl says:

    I think for a lot of people it’s not a yes that’s turned into a no. It’s a “We’ll save up for that and you might get it for Christmas or your birthday” that has turned into “No, we can’t afford that, I’m sorry.”

  3. DeleteThisAccount says:

    Unpatriotic bastards, how are we suppose to recover from 9/11 if we don’t buy more cheap plastic poisonous crap from china?!? God Bless GWB. Freedom, America, F Yeah!

    / End Snark

    • alexawesome says:

      @AngrySicilian: That whole “put money back into the economy” thing has me irked – it’s not like we turned stingy overnight. Nope – if we HAD the money to spend, golly, we WOULD! We all love deals and shopping and stuff, but if it’s the difference between dinner or a dvd, guess which one we’re going to pick? Wise up, Washington.

  4. rallyfanche says:

    Not really. I always say “no” Its so much shorter a word than “yes”. Im a simple simple man.

  5. pippenz says:

    I have just went into super savings mode. Saving more in Ing money markets for cushion, in conjunction with paying down debt.

    I am not planning on making any major purchases until Christmas presents in December, and those will be moderate.

    PS. My 401k is KILLING Me

    Keep trudging people – Stick to the Budget

    • alexawesome says:

      @pippenz: Good advice! Thank you for that. It will get better and easier if we stay on the saving track. Spending beyond our means and getting into debt is what caused this problem. Learning to manage our money and be fiscally responsible is what’s going to get us out and keep us out. Rock on.

  6. catskyfire says:

    Perhaps another problem is the continual lengthening of the shopping ‘seasons.’ I saw back to school sales in July…no more just at the end of August.

    The same cry will be heard after the Christmas season. “Where’s our seasonal sales rush?” retailers will ask. And those of us here on Consumerist will point out that when your season starts in August, you don’t get a December rush.

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      @catskyfire: Also, if the season starts in August, you don’t need to hire any seasonal help. Bonus for you, Mr. Retailer, but it sucks for the economy.

    • neega says:

      @catskyfire: I was surprised by this too till I talked to friends with older kids and found out school started the second week of August rather than first or second week of September like when I was a kid. So July actually made sense.

  7. Burgandy says:

    The real issue is “How awesome is that photo?” Stay on point people!

  8. mussorgsky112 says:

    A little bit of both, but more trimming the budget. Why buy a new backpack if I can still use the one I’ve had for a few years. The same mechanical pencil is still using the same lead and works just fine. Why buy new if the old still works just as fine?

    And, since I can’t resist the old glory… FIRST!

  9. Crabby Cakes says:

    I didn’t see the type of bargains I did 3-4 years ago. I desperately need a new couch and have been saving up for one. I figured the September sale season would be the nest time to buy. Most of the stuff we saw was obviously marked up before the ‘Big Blowout SALLEEEE!!’ Some couches even had the older, less expensive price ticket still stuffed behind the new ticket “bargain” ticket! I’m not surprised September retail season was a bust.

    • ElizabethD says:

      @Crabby Cakes:

      I agree — lots of signage indicating sales, discounts, etc. on all manner of goods. But actual bargains: not so much, particularly not in furniture where most products are cheesy and way overpriced. Upholstered furniture is the WORST in this regard. My sympathy.

    • mackjaz says:

      @Crabby Cakes: Just wait for the inevitable going out of business sales that are sure to crop up, probably after the Christmas “season”.

  10. SexCpotatoes says:

    I’m thinking of going as ‘Christmas Afterbirth’ for halloween this year, tape shredded wrapping paper on myself and fake blood and have a rant rehearsed about ‘you bastards killed Christmas, every year, earlier and earlier, you let retailers put up Christmas displays, you’ve turned a once-glorious holiday into a soul-sucking abortion!’ or something like that. It’ll rock.

  11. VA_White says:

    I wonder if all the people who thought we could shop ourselves out of the economic downturn feel stupid now?

  12. BumpinUgglas says:

    Short answer yes with an “if”, long answer no… with a “but”.

    In these tough times I find Reverend Lovejoy is always a source of advice.

  13. jscott73 says:

    If my daughter NEEDED it for school and it was on sale I bought it, otherwise last years stuff was just fine. But this is the way we have always been, now everybody else is jumping on our cheapo bandwagon.

    By the way, all the back to school stuff was on sale before school even started so why pay full price when you can get what you need the weekend before school starts at a huge savings. I believe this goes back to the whole lengthening of the shopping season.

    • dragonfire81 says:

      @jscott73: Agreed, longer seasons means less rush.

      But I also think in general people just have less money to spend on stuff. They have pay for gas, food, rent, bills. There’s just not a lot left over these days.

      • dragonfire81 says:

        @dragonfire81: Also if you just lost a truckload of money in the Stock market or on a 401 (k) are YOU going to want to go on a shopping spree? Probably not.

  14. Pinget says:

    My kids are hearing no more often.

  15. Charmander says:

    I only bought what my kids needed for school, and that was it. In past years, I’ve spent a lot more $$ on clothes, but we’re just being more frugal now.

  16. JN2 says:

    WOOt! Stormtrooper acceptance standards have improved since I was a cadet! I’m signing up again! (only this time I PROMISE to make sure the prisoners are squished in the garbage hold before I go on break)

    Oh (to stay on topic), if retailers think we didn’t have any money this summer, just wait until december!

  17. Outrun1986 says:

    I think people were buying less for back to school. In previous years I have been extremely successful with selling character backpacks on ebay for an insane markup, this year the highest priced backpack was about 50$ and thats extremely minimal compared to the prices in previous years. I think parents are saying “no” to their kids specific character requests and just picking from whats available on a store shelf. Especially when they want that lunchbox of character x and its all sold out of stores and going for 100$ on ebay, parents just said no to them this time around.

    • mbz32190 says:

      @Outrun1986: I’m surprised you are even able to make that much money. All those junky backpacks fall apart after a few years anyway, while I’ve been using a $40 Jansport backpack for the last 4 or 5 years with no issues.

      • MissPeacock says:

        @mbz32190: My Jansport has been going strong for 10 years. Best product ever.

        • "I Like Potatoes" says:

          Invest in an L.L. Bean backpack. They are awesome and if, for some reason, they do fall apart – send it back and they’ll replace it free.

      • "I Like Potatoes" says:

        @mbz32190: Plus, the kids outgrow the “character” even faster than the pack wears out.

      • Outrun1986 says:

        @mbz32190: Last year I was making anywhere from $20-70 per Pokemon backpack that I sold depending on condition, there were people that were making a lot more than I was with some Pokemon bags going for well over $100 and high school musical lunchbags that were 6$ in walmart were fetching well over 100 each. I was also able to make 50$ per Pokemon lunchbag sold. These were used backpacks and lunchbags too!

        Someone’s kid wants a bag with character x on it, its not sold in stores anymore and their parents will pay, simple as that.

    • mackjaz says:

      @Outrun1986: My sympathies to you… hope you can still make a few bucks doing the eBay thing, but I am also gratified to hear that people are tightening the belt a little. Less waste, less spending, less insanity.

      • Outrun1986 says:

        @mackjaz: I pick up all my used backpacks from yard sales for around 50 cents each so I am not losing much (I only have about 6 bags in storage right now so thats like 3$). Sometimes a character has to “age” for a while in order to get the money so I don’t mind holding onto a few bags that I paid a minimal price for in hopes that the price will skyrocket in a couple years. If I sell one bag for 30$ then I have made my money back and then some! Plus if my cousins get desperate for backpacks then I have plenty to supply to them, they could also be donated to other children if they don’t sell (not every ebay seller out there is a heartless jerk!). As others have said the bags don’t really wear out, the kids outgrow the character before the bag wears out.

        The people who are buying the bags from retail stores and then having them not sell and can’t return them because backpacks are considered a seasonal item are the ones that are losing money on this.

  18. shepd says:

    Lol! I’m surprised the Brick has only been featured on Consumerist in an unrelated photo… I’d expect an entire category for them!

    • redandjonny says:


      Me too. They royally jerked us around on the $500.00 gift card that came with the couches. The sales person lied to us saying we would get it as soon as we signed the agreement for the couches… The person we signed with said we would get it when the couches were actually delivered and the delivery driver would give it too us. When the delivery guy looked at us like we were insane when we asked for our gift card…We called the Brick, then the store manager tells us… 1 month later, after the couches are delivered that we couldn’t have it until our first payment was made…and we had to come and get it from the store we bought the couches.

      But the worst, ( for me ) the worst was the delivery guys phoning out of the blue… at 7 AM on 3 separate occasions saying they would be here in an hour. Uh, yah, thanks for the warning.

  19. aftercancer says:

    My kids are hearing no more often. We’re also cutting down debt and buying more on sites like, ebay, swaptree, etc. I think I may have the only kids who are making a list to Santa in October.

    • mackjaz says:

      @aftercancer: As my wife keeps reminding me, wanting something and waiting for it is healthy. A little delayed gratification is so good for the soul. It teaches kids that they can survive small crises, and it’s good preparation for “real” life, when they will have to endure “real” disappointments and setbacks.

      No is good!

  20. redandjonny says:

    We just bought those couches.

  21. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I think one of the more logical things some people are doing is buying things their children like but aren’t the latest trend. If next year, Hannah Montana goes on a drinking binge and falls out of the good graces of parents across the country, you’re stuck with practically new Hannah Montana merchandise you can’t unload on anyone. If your kid wants a green backback, get a green backpack that isn’t dependent on the year’s trends to be stylish.

  22. quail says:

    I grew up in a family where you just bought stuff as you needed it and you looked for it cheap or on sale. Never understood this retailer push for people to buy everything in one go. A season for this and a season for that.

    Besides, I buy my kid’s basic school supplies for the next year the week school starts. Target and others have slashed the prices deep in order to make room for Halloween and Christmas stuff. I love my $4 three subject notebooks for $0.94. It also helps that my boy’s school starts later than anyone else’s in the country.

  23. Starfury says:

    I’ve got 2 kids, both in school. They got a list of “stuff” they needed. We went through the leftover stuff from the last school year and added it. We did replace their backpacks (basically disintegrating), some pencils, and some paper. Probably spent less than $40 for all the supplies. They also have plenty of clothing and when my wife does shop she hits the clearance racks. Always seems to find good deals there on stuff we need.

    Overall we’ve cut our spending WAY back. Our house has enough ‘stuff’ in it already. There are things I *want* but also have enough self control to not buy them.

    • chrrey103 says:

      The schools are struggling too. Our registration at a public school (and yes we pay property taxes to them as well), lunches and fees in general increased $100.00 over last year.They also get a list for things the teachers need like clorox wipes, disposable cameras, odor free white board makers, kleenexes etc that are not reusable in addition to their supplies. I am keeping a spreadsheet every time the school asks for money. (This includes selling stuff which I just give them the money for)It was over $1000.00 last year. I kid you not. Sometimes it was 2.00 here for a field trip or 12.00 there for a special band cause but it was incredible.
      This is why my kids never get anything for school except for Christmas and birthdays and their clothes come from Goodwill (and they dress nicely). The only splurge they have is I buy them new shoes.

  24. booboolee says:

    I shop Ebay and thrift stores all year round. My parents NEVER took me back to school shopping. I’d get the stuff I wanted for September for Christmas, if at all.

  25. vastrightwing says:

    This latest economic collapse is to the retailers as 9/11 was to the travel and leisure industry. I’m switching to cash for most things: no money, no buying. I’ve cut back on spending. In fact, I’m selling stuff I don’t really need.

  26. Snarkysnake says:

    Closed circuit for all of you folks that are just now telling your kids “no” on the trendy crap that Target ,The Disney Channel and others insist that they have : Did it take the market collapsing and easy credit drying up for you to get this new religion or what ? If you had made do with functional but cheap stuff back in the good old days and kept a tighter hold on your budget, you wouldn’t be so damn scared when the news from Wall Street turns ugly.

    As for you retailers: Fuck you. A record breaking selling season suported by heavily indebted worker bees is not your due. Business has its ups and downs. You’ve had it real good for a long time and its time for the bill to be paid. Suck it up and just live with it.

  27. azntg says:

    While many people are cutting back, my family and I are actually in the buying market.

    You know why they can’t sell? They’re calling up “sale prices” that are either marked up higher than the original selling price OR maybe mark a couple of cents off the original selling price and calling that a “BLOWOUT BARGAIN!”, “SAVINGS EXTRAVAGANCE” and the like.

    Sorry, it doesn’t fly with me.

  28. stanner says:

    If you want some cheap entertainment, go window shopping for a car. I had to do that this week, and they’re falling all over themselves trying to make any kind of sale now.

    I almost feel bad for them. Almost. Well, not a bit actually.

    • vdragonmpc says:


      It is funny listening to a car salesperson tell you some BS that they will not come down on the price of a car..

      Then when you leave you get sales calls for a month. I wanted to get a vehicle from Toyota but the dealer wouldnt budge. We went to another dealer and they flipped out when they (original dealer called).. Offered all kinds of perks.

      Now if we had stayed and tried to fight the first time we would have lost a LOT of money and not gotten the car we left with.

  29. novacthall says:

    I say “no” so much to my kids that they don’t even exist yet.

  30. 3drage says:

    When you don’t have money it doesn’t matter how good the bargain is.

  31. EVEs_Mako says:

    Where do you get those stormtropper babe pics? I LOVE THOSE!

  32. bohemian says:

    The school pared down the supply list this year. Maybe they realized parents were not going to buy all the extra crap they pad school lists with.

    One got a hand me down book bag from the older one. Both recycled last years lunch bag and things like notebooks and pens were scavenged from stockpiles in the house. We also didn’t buy clothes unless something was worn out or outgrown.

    Sales lately, no real bargains to be had.

  33. Jevia says:

    My 4 year old daughter can wear about half the clothes from last winter. I bought a bunch more on ebay and a co-worker gave me some clothes from her 6 year old. So yeah, not much need to buy from stores. the only thing I might end up buying new (if I can’t find on ebay) is snow boots.

    Half my christmas shopping was done during sales in August. another quarter will likely be home-baked goods. so, just a few more things to get during the ‘normal’ christmas rush. I also watch the ‘daily sales’ posted here.

  34. MissGayle says:

    We decided this year to completely ignore that ridiculously long school supply list the teachers sent home. I have an entire supply cabinet full of paper, notebooks, folders, dividers, page covers, markers, colored pencils, compasses, protractors, highlighters, construction paper that teachers said the kids “needed” and sat here unused every single year. With two out of high school now, one in middle school and one in high school, I am simply not going to buy any more stuff until we are completely out of the accumulated “necessary” items from years past. And at this rate, that will be a while. It also means teachers may get a 1″ floppy binder instead of a stiff one, for example, but I don’t care.

    My two nieces are both teachers, one in California and one in the DC area, and they both tell me that according to federal law, every kid in this country is entitled to a FREE public education, and in counties and districts there where parents have pressed the issue in court, families are longer are required to buy school supplies at all.

    As for shopping in general, my kids know not to even ask for gifts and extras between birthdays and holidays. Our budget has been tight for some years, and the biggest treat they know to expect is a Blizzard or very rarely a movie at the theaters. We include them in the budgeting process and they unanimously agree that DSL Internet is more important to them than, say, buying a game once a month. Kids are not stupid, and if you don’t try and pretend that nothing is wrong and be a hypocrite, they can be valuable allies in the fight against budget overflow – often they can spot free activities and good deals you didn’t know about if you recruit them to keep an eye out.

  35. CyrusOpeth says:

    “…as shoppers stayed away from stores and ignored bargains.”

    People, those aren’t BARGAINS. Bargains have value. No, just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it has value or is a bargain. Generally that just means it’s cheap junk.

    I hope people will develop a sense of value, and will stop using that as a term to mean “it costs little”. “Oh, that’s our VALUE line of cruises.” No, those are your CHEAP cruises. There’s little to no VALUE in them at all. Quit using the term “value” to mean “cheap”.

    If people start buying on value, the cheap crap will go away. Me, I’m thinking of finding one good solid Christmas present for each of my kids, something that will last, something that has VALUE. Not something that breaks within 3 minutes of opening the box.

    More isn’t better, people, and value doesn’t mean “it’s cheap”.

  36. Thorgryn says:

    I’m not particularly feeling economic pain, but I do really think before buying stuff. Where I would get the more expensive item, I much more often buy store brands, I haven’t overbought much. When there is a good sale on meat, I buy the big packs, split them up and freeze it. Been avoiding restaurants lately except in rare cases. Overall I am living much more frugally.

  37. Robobot says:

    It’s my boyfriend who is suffering. I’m usually a total sugar mama, but lately I have cut back big-time. I’m probably spending 1/8 of what I did on his 20th birthday for his upcoming 21st. And the money for that gift is coming from my tiny grocery budget, not the large “whatever” budget I had before getting laid off.

    There will be no Christmas season for us this year, but that was a decision we made about two weeks into December of last year. We’ll visit the parents and maybe make holiday-themed alcoholic beverages, but screw all the spending and the stress of all that shopping.

  38. diamondmaster1 says:

    My last day in professional retailing was 24 Dec 2007; I had seen this coming for almost eight months by that time. Got tired trying to tell the higher-ups that they were living in a dream world of denial when all the signs I could see said that a crash was coming that would affect the viability of the jewelry industry nation- if not world-wide and a plan needed to be drawn up to handle the downturn when it hit. (Apparently 30 years of experience doesn’t qualify you as someone who just *might* have clue how your business works, though, so I got out as soon as possible.)

    Now I sit comfortably on the sidelines as an interested observer while all my friends and associates still in the industry are getting the screws turned tighter and tighter as the pressure to sell to a public that’s not buying becomes more desperate with each passing missed monthly sales goal.

  39. Hyman Decent says:

    Are you telling your kids “no,” when you used to say “yes”?

    It’s worse than that. I drove them to Nebraska and left them at a hsopital.

  40. u1itn0w2day says:

    Everytime of year,every holiday,every event is made to seem like a reason to wastefully spend your money.

    Not only are people are broke I think they’re tired of the way these companies push items on them.Yeah,you don’t want to pay 5$ for a pack of 3 ring paper when Walmart has it for a dollar but you open the advertisements in August and your swamped with ‘back to school’.

    Some prices aren’t even that great during back to school.I found the best time to buy a computer for price is like May to July.

  41. ninjatoddler says:

    I bought a new MacBook which came with a printer and iPod Touch. Bought the new iPod Touch after it came out. Yea I know. I’ve gone over to the dark side.

  42. dvdchris says:

    Funny how a minute 1.5% drop in sales is interpreted as ‘abject failure.’ There cannot be an increase every single year for every shopping period. There has to be a critical mass at some point where people have enough furniture and electronics.
    Or where people are up to their noses in debt and just can’t buy anymore.

  43. kmw2 says:

    The kiddo got what she needed to start school, but I really wasn’t tempted by cars, furniture, appliances or other random stuff that was on a “back to school” sale. Which really doesn’t make sense anyway, to my mind – why is school starting a natural time to buy a new bed? I think my spending is starting to shift away from “when it’s on sale” and to “when we really need it”.