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Back-to-school shopping off to slow start

Back-to-school fashions are displayed at JCPenney in New York’s Times Square.

Associated Press

Back-to-school fashions are displayed at JCPenney in New York’s Times Square.

NEW YORK — Shoppers are holding off on back-to-school shopping, and those who delay long enough might be rewarded with some steep discounts from desperate retailers.

Revenue at stores open at least a year — an industry measure of a retailer's health— rose 3.8 percent in July, the slowest pace since March, according to a preliminary tally of 10 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The figure, which excludes drugstores, was below June's 5.5 percent increase.

Costco Wholesale, typically a strong performer, was among the retailers reporting disappointing figures.

Many stores were already offering discounts and other come-ons to get shoppers to spend on the new shipments of fall clothing that started flowing in mid July. But experts say even more deals are coming this month as stores try to boost sales for the back-to-school season, which runs from mid July through mid September.

"It was a lousy start," said Walter Loeb, an independent retail consultant based in New York. "There will be even more discounts to make up the sales."

Only a sliver of retail chains now report monthly sales figures, and the list doesn't include Walmart and many large chains. But Thursday's tally adds to evidence that shoppers are being frugal about their purchases, particularly clothing. The back-to-school season is the second-biggest-selling period behind the winter holidays.

A clearer picture of how the back-to-school season is faring will emerge next week when major retailers like Walmart and Macy's report their second-quarter financial results. Analysts will dissect the outlooks merchants have for the fall quarter.

Overall, the back-to-school season faces a big challenge: Shoppers are shifting their spending away from clothing and toward bigger-ticket spending on their homes and cars because they have more credit available, said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe.

He said they're using this "fiscal freedom" to spend on the more expensive items, cutting into lower-priced impulse buys like clothing. That has stores competing hard for dollars.

$634.78

Average amount families with school-age children are expected to spend for clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics, down 7.8 percent from $688.62 last year, according to the National Retail Federation

Back-to-school shopping off to slow start 08/08/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 9:30pm]

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