It's amazing how many individuals and organizations give the impression that they are the experts on their industry and yet, they don't seem to know a whole lot. Take, for example, the National Retail Federation, the world's largest retail trade association. It seems like only yesterday -- actually, it was just over five weeks ago -- that the NRF was talking up prospects for the industry's second-largest selling season:
Having outgrown shoes, shirts and even backpacks they’ve used the last two years, children heading back to school this year will arrive in style. The National Retail Federation’s 2010 Consumer Intentions and Actions Back to School survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found that the average American family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics [a 10.5% increase] compared to $548.72 last year, and close to the $594.24 in 2008. Total spending on school-aged children in grades K-12 is expected to reach $21.35 billion.*
Combined K-12 and college spending will reach $55.12 billion*, serving as the second biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays.
“We are encouraged by the fact that parents are eager to start their back to school shopping this year, but the industry still remains cautiously optimistic about recovery,” said NRF President and CEO Matt Shay.
However, based on the following New York Post report, "Schooling Shoppers," it appears that those who are supposed to be in the know are either hopeless dreamers or are members of the ever-growing Washington cheerleading squad:
Consumers are waiting for sales as retailers cut stock
This back-to-school season may teach consumers and retailers a cruel lesson.
Wallet-conscious parents are holding out for the steep Labor Day weekend markdowns on everything from three-ring binders to ring-spun denim. Meanwhile, retailers have kept inventories so lean that experts say eye-popping deals and consumer choices will be in shorter supply.
The likely result: many kids will be showing up for class in last year's duds.
"It's going to be a last-minute season -- and not necessarily a great one," said Steve Russo, president and CEO of FAB Starpoint, a New York firm that manufactures everything from notebooks to backpacks that bear the likenesses of popular characters like Hello Kitty, SpongeBob SquarePants and Spiderman.
Industry insiders say the malaise signals a new climate of lowered expectations in retail, with high unemployment and tanked housing prices damping consumer spirits. This month, hopes for the holidays have dimmed as retailers like Wal-Mart, JCPenney and Abercrombie & Fitch gave disappointing forecasts for the second half.
On the positive side, more parents last week had completed their back-to-school shopping than a year earlier, according to the National Retail Federation. Still, that figure stood at less than half of all households. If parents are finishing their shopping trips earlier, "that's probably because they're spending less," says Ken Perkins of Retail Metrics, an industry research firm.
Indeed, overall back-to-school spending will likely drop slightly from last year's already-depressed levels, falling 0.2 percent to $19.56 billion, according to IBISWorld. The industry research firm, which recorded a year-earlier decline of 5.4 percent, blames "high levels of unemployment and economic uncertainty."
Of course, it's possible that the NRF's July forecast was simply a mistake, right?