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Back-to-school shopping has begun

Updated: 
July 24, 2014 - 12:05am

It’s that time again, when shoppers are hitting Big Island stores, stocking up on school supplies and searching for the best deals in town. Meanwhile, several retailers are studying their moves and are anticipating an increase in sales.

Families with children in kindergarten through grade 12 are expected to spend on average about $670 on back-to-school supplies, which is slightly up from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

When asked by West Hawaii Today this week, Kailua-Kona shoppers frequently revealed budgets, that were less than the national average this year. They estimated spending an average of $100 to $200 on school supplies alone, depending on the number of children they are shopping for, and an estimated $500 total including school supplies, clothes and shoes. Several of the shoppers were searching for the best deals by shopping at multiple department stores and reusing items from last year’s supply to save money.

Roger Thomas, team leader at Target in Kailua-Kona, said this time of year brings an increase of sales in everything related to school: pens, paper, clothing, shoes, backpacks and even lunch foods.

The back-to-school shopping season typically begins mid-July and runs through mid-September. It’s one of the biggest selling periods, particularly of the summer, for many retailers, including the Kailua-Kona Target. Thomas described it as “Christmas in the summer.”

“The amount of inventory we have received over the past month has increased quite a lot in anticipation of school supply shopping,” he said. “We haven’t run out of anything yet. We have a large inventory, but come next week, we may run out of things. Last year, one of the things I remember running very light on was white-out.”

Thomas anticipates the rush will come the week before school starts, but he has noticed many shoppers have been starting to stock up on school supplies earlier this year. He said most shoppers have been buying six to 12 school supply items each week — something he thinks is helping to spread out the amount of money spent on school supplies instead of doing one big purchase, which can be costly.

Linh Lalonde of Waikoloa has gotten a head start on school-supply shopping this year. “It’s less hectic (shopping earlier). I think everyone waits until last minute,” Lalonde said.

According to the federation’s consumer report in early July, back-to-school sales are estimated to total $72.5 billion this year, even though one-third of families are expected to use coupons while shopping for school supplies. Of people surveyed, 21 percent said they would spend less money due to the economy and 23 percent planned to reuse items from last year. Along with that, 30 percent said they were going to purchase store-brand items rather than name brand to save additional money and 14 percent of college students plan to share or borrow textbooks to eliminate added expenses.

The cost of school supplies, such as notebooks, backpacks, lunchboxes, folders and pencils, is largest for middle school students and lowest for those in elementary school. High schoolers, on the other hand, will spend more money on electronics than the other grade levels this year, according to the federation.

Maggie Leite, Kailua-Kona Office Max manager, said there haven’t been many electronics sales yet at her store in relation to back-to-school shopping. Still, she anticipates the rush will come sometime in August when college students begin preparing for school.

Clothing and accessories typically make up the largest amount of spending during the back-to-school shopping season, according to the federation. Sheila Colon, manager at Kailua-Kona’s Oshima Surf &Skate, said the back-to-school season is a season the store looks forward to. In anticipation, Oshima Surf &Skate orders extra inventory and prepares for the rush. Popular items have been kendamas, backpacks, board shorts, hydroflasks, T-shirts and slippers.

“It was kind of dead there for a little while, but all of a sudden — boom, we were busy,” Colon said.

While Colon has noticed some people buying back-to-school clothing, shoes and backpacks early, she said there are many who are waiting until closer to the start of the school year. According to the state Department of Education, Aug. 1 is the first day for public school students.

To attract back-to-school shoppers, Oshima Surf &Skate is having a sale this weekend and hosting a Kendama Jam, Colon said.