Is It Too Early For Back-To-School Sales?


Public school students in Union City, NJ, just wrapped up classes earlier this week. So Consumerist reader Juhgail was caught off guard when she popped into a Staples to pick up some supplies and came upon an entire rack of back-to-school items.

She managed to snap this shot of a backpack display exhorting students to “Go back to school in style!”

“I almost FELL OVER when I saw this display in the main aisle at the front of the store!” she writes.

NYC public schools are still in session until next Monday and I know if I were a teen and saw a display like this, I’d be supremely depressed.

What do you think? Is this a case of back-to-school creep? And how early should stores start pushing back-to-school deals?


Edit Your Comment

  1. UglyShirts says:

    In a word…YES.

    And to think I used to get depressed when I’d see that stuff show up the first weekend of August. Criminy.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Different schools start at different times, though. Some schools might start late August.

  2. AllanG54 says:

    It’s Union City, NJ. Probably half the kids there are going to summer school anyhow. That’s probably why the “back to school” promo.

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    When I was a kid, I remember back to school sales starting in August. I used to love buying new notebooks. July is a little too early, but I can see how if kids have camp or school during the summer and they need a new backpack or notebooks, it would behoove stores to supply that kind of thing earlier.

  4. Etoiles says:

    Back-to-school means different things in different parts of the country. I know NJ schools don’t start in August, but schools in the South do. So if a store is doing a nationwide planogram…

  5. mandys08 says:

    OOOOH I love office supples. But I usually wait and grab up the leftovers in September.

    • tbax929 says:

      Me too. I am a big fan of office supplies. Since I don’t actually pay for them, I can spend my whole day buying stuff for the office.

      Back story: we opened our first west coast office, so I got to shop for everything from soup to nuts. So much fun!

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I buy stuff at the flea market. Once I found a stack of seven plastic letter trays for a dollar each. Those things retail for four or five bucks!

  6. Shadowfire says:

    What if I’m a college student (or even high school) who has classes in the summer? This is just fine.

  7. jayde_drag0n says:

    Just saying big NO on the August thing.. Fall semester in college STARTS in august.. i’d like to see the sales BEFORE school starts?? thanks

    • tsukiotoshi says:

      Well how much time do you need? My college didn’t start until September but when I was in grad school it started in mid August or thereabouts and back to school sales starting the first week of August provided more than enough time.

      • Rachacha says:

        For college, you don’t need much prep time, a folder & notebook for each class and you are all set, but for gradeschool it can be quite insane with the supplies that they need and the specificity that the supplies are identified, for example, instead of “Scissors”, some supply lists have “1 pair of 3″ pointed blade scissors with flexible rubber handles” and for coloring supplies “One box of 8 count primary color markers, one box of 24 count crayons, one box of 48 count colored pencils” which as a parent I have to think “They are in 4th grade, how much coloring are they still actually doing in class”

        • dru_zod says:

          Elementary and middle schools always put tons of stuff on their supply lists that is totally unnecessary. I remember having to get a new 3-ring binder every year (those took a lot of abuse), always with 5 or 6 special dividers, colored pencils (yes, through 8th grade…we used them a lot to do diagrams for science class, maps for geography, etc.), at least 2 packs of notebook paper, protractors, rulers, #2 pencils, and all kinds of other crap. I graduated from high school 8 years ago, and I still have half a box of unused pencils and a couple packs of unused notebook paper my parents bought for me to use in middle school, not to mention about five “1-subject” spiral bound notebooks that I used the first three pages of and a couple of composition books that were used maybe twice.

  8. HannahK says:

    If they put out all the new stuff in June, maybe it will be on sale or clearance by the time school actually starts. In that case, I’m all for it.

  9. dolemite says:

    Kids just got out of school here pretty much….

  10. Amalas says:

    My younger sister starts school on something like August 9th. >

  11. MamaBug says:

    my daughter starts school on August 12th. Maybe it’s a southern thing, letting out earlier and going back sooner.

    • Etoiles says:

      It is. My husband grew up in the South and had that kind of schedule. In New England, we generally start right after Labor Day and go until between June 12th and June 25th (depending on year, snow days, etc).

      • MamaBug says:

        my husband’s family from WV usually get out in June – especially since they had about two weeks worth of off time from all the snow this year. Growing up my dad continually said that they were pushing for year-round school since they kept pushing the start date back earlier and earlier. It terrified me growing up, but now that I have kids of my own, it’s not a half bad idea :)

    • Fidget says:

      Yup. Back home, they finally had to make a law about just how early you can start school. They were bumping it up to August 1st and such as the district/state became more dependent on FCAT scores, so teachers would have more time. Meanwhile, the only thing I’ve seen the FCAT do is prevent otherwise capable adults from getting GED’s because they can’t regurgitate social studies information. So now the only people who can actually pass a GED exam in FL are the people who just dropped out, say, in the past year or less. Because FL sucks so hard at education…
      Not sure how I got here. But yes, the south starts earlier, and year-round school would be so awesome. Beats hell out of being shipped off to the local daycare-lady while she plays internet poker.

    • Bonster says:

      Summer break used to be determined by the agricultural seasons. That’s why we have them – so the kids would be out to help on the farm when they were most needed. It makes sense that the South would start break sooner than colder regions,

      Of course, that’s not 100% accurate now, without too many kids needed on the farms.

  12. JasonR says:

    My wife went to Staples and all I got was this lousy article. ;) Oh yeah… and boxes, and packing peanuts…

    Good catch there, darling. You’re consumerist-famous now. :)

    – Juhgail’s husband

  13. Sarcastico says:

    Send the little buggers to school year round and be done with it. Get ’em used to careers licking the man’s boots, strategically planning their sick days and feeble vacation offerings while the government picks their pockets supporting the oldsters and free riders. Oh, and get off my lawn.

    • tbax929 says:

      We have a few districts in my area that have school year-round. So there are always kids here that are going “back to school”.

  14. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    I went to school in Newark NJ, and had classes year round, so I needed supplies in the summer. Also there is day camp, summer camp, YMCA, etc… that make backpacks necessary.

    I feel sorry your summer’s weren’t as fun as others were Chris.

  15. abluvion says:

    A sale is a sale… Might be helpful for some parents to take advantage of early sales and spread out the cost of back-to-school supplying over the course of the summer. I don’t see anything wrong with offering necessary items for lower prices earlier in the year, as long as they are still offering sales at the time of typical last-minute rushes, too.

  16. Polish Engineer says:

    They should just go ahead and put out a x-mas tree right next to the back to school sign. I know they want to. If you can advertise back to school a week after most kids in the country get out, why not go for gold….

  17. Das G says:

    We have year round school where I live so my kids start their next grade the week after the July 4th week. It sucks when we have to buy all the new supplies in June/July. Most stores don’t even carry all the items, and even if they do, the items are overpriced.

  18. H3ion says:

    If Christmas merchandise is already on the shelves, why is this a problem? There are no seasons any more. I expect to go to my local store and find ads for Father’s Day 2011 on the displays.

  19. mike says:

    I still remember that staples “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” commercial. That was hilarious!

  20. kalaratri says:

    I got the BJs Back to School promotional mailing before the kids here in VA actually got out of school.

  21. Soapysoap says:

    Although I do think it’s slightly early, this shouldn’t be a surprise to me. At Michaels they already have fall merchandise out, and Christmas will be out on the floor in August. I miss having actual seasons.

  22. Mr. zip says:

    I work at a competing office supply store, and we started getting our back to school stuff a few weeks ago. We’re just now starting to setup. We get our first wave of stuff early, but the promos usually don’t start until late July, and the juicy stuff doesn’t even really start till mid-August

  23. sopmodm14 says:

    i tink typically, its after 7/4, and usually its good for parents and retailers

    if they put it out early, and there are sales, parents get it done earlier and at full price

    if they buy later, its on sale/clearance, but selection might be thinned

  24. DangerMouth says:

    I picked ‘whenever they want’, because, hey, it’s not me, dreading the end of my nonexistant summer vacation.

  25. momtimestwo says:

    Our school starts in the beginning of August so I’d like the sales to start now since I have to budget and buy for 2 kids.

  26. Brad says:

    I’ve worked for an office-supply retailer for almost 6 years. With schools going back at different dates it’s incredibly hard to time shipments to 1500 stores. Considering the amount of extra inventory that it purchased they don’t want it sitting in their distribution centers so they push it to the stores. The stores don’t want it sitting in their warehouse so they push it to the floor. Where I live school goes back in early to mid-August so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have BTS merchandise out now. It gives parents plenty of time to shop.

    As other readers have commented, this can help with multiple children not having to but everything at once. I will say that all three office supply chains get into a price-war so pay attention to their ads each week to save the most. It’s easy to find 10 cent Elmer’s glue, 5 cent packs of filler paper, etc. The stores have plenty of inventory but the special deals might only last the first three days of the ad so it’s important to pay attention to the dates.

    • I wumbo. You wumbo. He- she- me... wumbo. Wumbo; Wumboing; We'll have thee wumbo; Wumborama; Wumbology; the study of Wumbo. says:

      Price wars are never good for the seller.

  27. BettyCrocker says:

    Ever heard of a year round school schedule (instead of a traditional one). School supplies and back to school clothes are needed as soon as one school year is over.

    We used to have to deal with going back to school and waiting a month for this stuff. Finally someone realized that different areas have different school schedules.

  28. ShinGetterPoPo says:

    I like June because my summer classes for college start as soon as the spring semester ended. I don’t want to spend a crap ton of money on things when I’m still in school year round.

  29. fjordtjie says:

    Staples always does a really cheap ‘back to school’ thing around this time…free folders and such. Then, when most people are shopping closer to when school actually starts, the really cheap sales end.

    I guess all I have to say is quit your whining about it! This is how I can get prepared for school for under $10.

  30. Sally says:

    NYC is still in school? Crap!

    Out here, school starts mid to late August and goes until mid to late May. So it isn’t too ridiculously early for back to school here.

    What pisses me off is that coats are sold in September, but shorts go away.

  31. pantheonoutcast says:

    Perhaps it’s a display for Summer School students. Failures need backpacks, too.

  32. Wburg says:

    I’m in college and my summer classes start monday. I wish we had back to school sales already. On top of that, none of the stores (bed bath and beyond, target, etc) have started their back to school pushes, so the selection was pretty slow.

  33. stint7 says:

    I loved back to school time when I was working retail. You really can get your items per hour up by scanning multiple notebooks, loose leaf paper, binders, folders, etc. Everything is a similar shape and fits all so perfectly together….Wow I am a nerd.

  34. MikeM_inMD says:

    It’s hilarious to see this on my daughter’s first day of summer vacation.

  35. Chachoregard says:

    School ended after Memorial Day.Summer School Ends First Week of July 1. School starts around Mid-Late August.

    I don’t go though. :D

  36. heartspark4ec says:

    I work at Staples and I do have to agree, we start very early. We probably started getting back to school stuff the first or second week of June. We did the setup for back to school last week. And our actual back to school sales start next week. I do think it is way early, but really that is the whole trend in businesses lately. I have a friend who works in a grocery store, and they are already getting in Halloween Candy. And you can bet Christmas will be making an appearing in the beginning of October (last year I saw Christmas stuff October 2nd at a target).

    So yeah, it is early… but it’s become a huge trend to over-prepare for large sale seasons.