School cuts expand BTS shopping lists; reluctant shoppers to extend season

NEW YORK For most food, drug and mass merchandise retailers, back-to-school season means doing brisk business in pencils, notebooks, paper and backpacks.

But according to published reports, reductions in funding for school districts across the country because of lower tax revenues and spending cuts have forced many school districts to add a host of unexpected items to Junior’s must-have list of school supplies.

The New York Times recently reported that students in some cities now are being asked to buy such items as plastic cutlery, garbage bags, printer paper and even toilet paper.

It’s hard to say that kids having to bring their own toilet paper to school is a good thing, but the expanded list of school supplies does give retailers a new aisle in which to put such products and clear out inventory. And it may not be too late, either. According to Bloomberg, consumers on the lookout for discounts and retailers looking to keep their profits up may cause the back-to-school shopping season –– generally one of the busiest of the year –– to extend well into September.

So far, the trend hasn’t translated into huge increases in sales of those items in the food, drug and mass channels. According to Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group, food and trash bags –– one of the categories mentioned in the Times article –– had sales of $1.9 billion during the 52-week period ended July 11, a 5.6% drop from the same period the year before. Facial tissue sales were $982.8 million, 2.9% less than the year before, while toilet paper sales were $4.1 billion, a 0.85% decrease. Then again, pens and pencils also fell in sales by 0.61% even as children’s art supplies experienced a 1.21% sales increase.

But whatever the data may or may not indicate, continued school budget cuts likely will cause many to have to forego many basic items and rely on students to buy them, thus giving retailers a chance to provide them.

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