ShopperTrak eyes gains for back-to-school retail traffic

CHICAGO — This August, retailers can expect that prepared parents will shop and spend more during the back-to-school season than they did last year, according to ShopperTrak in an analysis of expected retail foot traffic.

According to ShopperTrak national retail sales, when compared to the same period last year, will rise 4.3% in August and retail foot traffic will increase 0.6%.

“Back-to-school shopping is the first major ‘shopping season’ of the calendar year, and has the potential to set the tone for the holidays,” said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak founder. “The economy is, in many ways, stronger than it was last August. We expect that the 2013 season will continue the growth trend of both retail sales and foot traffic.”

Indeed, in 2012, back-to-school sales increased 5.9% compared to the previous year. In 2011, those sales increased 4.5% over 2010 levels.

The expected increases in August reflect the U.S. economy’s slow but steady gains. For instance, unemployment this year is lower than it was during last year’s back-to-school time. Though consumer sentiment does not impact retail sales immediately, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index recently reached its highest level since the beginning of the recession. The last time consumer sentiment was as high as it was in May 2013 was in September 2007.

In recent years, back-to-school shoppers had focused on stores with the best values. But with this positive consumer sentiment, shoppers may be more willing to “shop around” at more stores – not just the value locations – thus adding to the increased foot traffic and sales.

“On the whole, more people feel better about their financial situation than they did last year in August,” Martin said. “Parents are ready to spend on their children’s school necessities.

Martin continued, "The consumers will be browsing. In order to seize this opportunity, smart retailers must prepare their marketing and operations to increase their foot traffic, sales and ultimately, their shopper conversion rates.”

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