The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

School shoppers spend less, reveal more

Pointy yellow pencils. Fresh blue jeans. Brand new bookbags. They're the items that make sitting in a plastic chair for eight hours bearable for kids who've grown accustomed to lazy summer days.

But while the supplies never change, many of this summer's trends in back-to-school shopping are also specific to 2001.

Shopping is dropping

Consumer spending might make up two-thirds of American economic activity, but this year's slowdown may mean a drop in back-to-school buying.

The average U.S. family is expected to spend $527 to send their students to school in style, a 4 percent decline over last year, according to the American Express Retail Index, an annual shopping survey of teens and parents.

Until now, back-to-school spending had increased at a steady pace since the survey began in 1995. The swing factor this year was not parents' concerns about the economy, American Express spokesman Tom Sclafani told The Detroit Newsin an article published Aug. 8. Rather, it was the teens, who said they planned to spend less.

"More teens said this year that they are bargain hunters," Sclafani said. "That might not be the stereotype of teens. But we found more teens who said they are not getting regular allowances. More kids earn money through jobs outside their home and tend to want to stretch their dollars."

Bargain hunters

Since President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut hasn't been enough to push parents into malls, many stores are offering more coupons, rebates and discounts to offset the decline.

Home accessory stores such as Bed, Bath and Beyond are targeting college students, giving them coupons for items including rugs, sheets and lamps for dorm rooms.

The Limited Too, an apparel offshoot of the Limited that caters to girls ages 7 to 14, is offering $25 discounts for the next purchase if parents spend more than $50.

Discount fever also has been helpful for national chains. Stores like K-mart and Wal-Mart have witnessed 5 percent increases in same store sales. Kohl's Corp., a fast-growing chain of hybrid discount department stores, reported a sales increase of 14.3 percent at stores open more than one year.

Internet Boom

With 53 million American students in grades K-12, the Internet has made shopping easier this year according to Acclaro Growth Partners, a Leesburg-based consulting firm that recently completed a retail industry study.

Numerous Web sites focus on school products, such as, and The e-commerce arms of large retailers such as and are reliable online resources as well.

"E-commerce now represents an important means of marketing and selling school products," said Kit Lisle, managing director of Acclaro in an Aug. 23 press release. Lisle reports that approximately 15 percent of back-to-school shoppers will utilize the Internet to augment in-store shopping.

The online purchasing trend is complemented by increases in the school-age population. According to Acclaro, in the United States overall, K-12 school enrollment has increased by 14 percent in the past decade. Not only is the number of consumers of school supplies increasing, but the total dollar amount being spent by the online buyer is also increasing. The U.S. School supplies market reached $6.2 billion for 2001. Excluding purchases of clothes, shoes and technology, the average per student expenditure on school supplies may hit $115 in 2001.

Party clothes or Studious styles?

Trendy clothing has grown more provocative in recent years, and this year is no exception. This fall more and more young girls plan to take tube tops and body glitter into the classroom.

Hot fall looks include low-rise jeans, tight miniskirts and stretch T-shirts, displaying sexually loaded phrases like "Wild Thing." These styles are gaining popularity among the "tweens" demographic, a group composed of 8- to 12-year-olds.

In an effort to target the "tween" customer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. introduced the Mary Kate and Ashley clothing line, an exclusive line named after TV's popular Olsen twins. The collection, which includes pleather pants and studded mid-calf boots, has done so well that the chain is doubling orders for the fall.

Albemarle County Walton Middle School principal Billy Haun is wary of the new look. The school already has dress codes in place prohibiting spaghetti strap tank tops, and skimpy shirts and shorts.

"I've got two daughters and they shop at Old Navy," he said. "You really have to look hard for clothes that aren't a distraction."

But Lisa Brown, a 16-year-old Charlottesville resident, doesn't think it's a problem.

"A lot of girls wear baby tees and short shorts to school and it's not a big deal," she said. "You can wear tight clothes without looking scandalous"


Latest Podcast

Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.