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Drug stores push for back-to-school shoppers

Many pharmacies and drug stores this season are working to entice back-to-school shoppers with deep discounts on school supplies.

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High gas prices and inflation are putting a strain on family budgets, and most analysts are expecting a sub-par back-to-school shopping season. And that’s why pharmacy retailers are putting more emphasis on promotions with sharp price reductions on school supplies and other general merchandise products.

Walgreens has made Hannah Montana the focus of its back-to-school promotion with displays loaded with licensed product from the Disney Channel star. The endcaps are jammed with more than a dozen items including binders, notebooks, message boards and pens. And some products are available exclusively at Walgreens.

“We have Hannah Montana and High School Musical dry erase boards for lockers that are exclusive to us,” said Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Bruce.

Walgreens also is offering low prices on basic school supplies and cut prices by 20 percent on back-to-school-themed products from its photo department, including personalized mousepads, posters and photo clings.

CVS has reduced prices on all school supplies and marked sales items with bright yellow WOW signs to call out bargains. The deals include a 20 percent reduction on the price of backpacks and an endcap near checkout stands that stock a mix of marked-down products priced as low as 50 cents. They include mini-notebooks, highlighters and single-use cameras.

CVS Extra Care members are receiving a 2 percent return on every dollar spent on back-to-school products, money that will be made available on Oct. 1 just before the start of the holiday shopping season. And it staged weekly buy-one-get-one-free deals on back-to-school products in August for products ranging from backpacks to specialty pens.

Rite Aid is offering lower prices on its less expensive, private-label line of school supplies like Harvard Square and Office Experts, which include staplers, calculators and push pins. Longs Drug stores are dedicating an entire aisle to back to school products, and the chain sent out back-to-school coupon books to drive consumers into stores. Longs also cut prices by up to 25 percent on basic school supplies like Five Star Binders from Mead.

Back-to-school promotions are more of a challenge this year given the state of the economy. According to a Deloitte study, 71 percent of consumers surveyed said they would spend less on back-to-school shopping this year, with 48 percent planning to reduce spending by more than $100. It also showed that 45 percent of consumers would shop at stores that offer lower prices and put off buying certain products as long as possible.

“These survey results indicate that consumers will likely stick to the basics this fall,” said Stacy Janiak, Deloitte’s U.S. retail leader.

The National Retail Federation has a more optimistic view. It’s predicting an increase in spending, with families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade spending $599.24 compared with $563.49 in 2007.

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