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Back-to-school sales starting early as first day approaches

Summer began less than a month ago, but area stores are already stocking shelves and setting displays for back-to-school sales.

The early start for stores is in preparation for classes that begin at some area schools the week of Aug. 6.

With increased disposable income in the hands of many Americans, this year is likely to reach one of the three highest years on record for back-to-school sales at $82.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

The average family is expected to spend $685 per household on school supplies and the majority of that will be on clothing, followed by electronics and shoes. College spending is projected to reach its highest level yet at $942.17 per household, according to the federation.

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“If you look at retail sales throughout this year, they continue to increase,” said Gordon Gough, president and CEO of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants. “The tax cuts have put more dollars into tax payers’ pockets, which add to their feeling of disposable income. Wages are going up. All of those factors contribute to an increase in sales.”

Ohio’s tax-free weekend from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 is one way shoppers will take advantage of back-to-school shopping, Gough said.

Shoppers don’t have to pay taxes on clothing costing less than $75 per item and school supplies and instructional material costing less than $20 per item during the weekend. All Ohio stores — both physical and online — are required to participate in the sales tax holiday.

Gough said retailers see anywhere between a 5 and 9 percent increase in sales during the weekend, including both the school supplies that draw parents into the store and the other items they buy while there.

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“At the end of the day it’s a win for the consumer because what retailers are doing is offering even more sales,” Gough said.

A majority of shoppers are still making their purchases at brick-and-mortar stores, but online shopping has increased among parents looking for school supplies. Walmart is one mass retailer taking an aggressive approach to offer back-to-school e-commerce.

“We know our customers want to shop when they want, where they want, and how they want,” Walmart spokeswoman Erin Hulliberger said.

Last year Walmart.com featured TeacherLists, a website where teachers upload supply lists. This year, the company will offer the service through the Walmart app, where customers can add the list to their Walmart shopping list, which will then locate the aisle of each product.

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Target also invested in app technology for back-to-school shopping this year. In the store’s app, shoppers can choose pickup or free two-day delivery, enter a zip code to find a specific school supply list and be instantly matched to a list of items for purchase.

Cincinnati-based Kroger is projecting to see about a 5 percent increase in back-to-school sales this year, spokeswoman Erin Rolfes said.

Shoppers will continue to see paper supply lists for local schools at area Kroger stores, but they will also see a new product.

“Looking at the school safety issues we’ve seen, this year for the first time we’re going to offer clear backpacks,” Rolfes said.

No local schools specifically asked for the backpacks, which became a national topic of conversation after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but Rolfes said Kroger saw the need for them and understands parents desire to feel safer when sending their children to school.

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