US retailers scramble to stock shelves as children return to school By Reuters


ยฉ Reuters. School supplies are on display at Stationery and Toy World in New York, USA, before the start of the school year on July 21, 2021. REUTERS / Joyce Philippe


By Lisa Baertlein and Joyce Philippe

LOS ANGELES / NEW YORK (Reuters) – At Stationery and Toy World, a family-owned boutique on New York’s Upper West Side, manager Gary Rowe struggles to get all the pens and files he’s ordered for the important back-to-school season. .

Its regular suppliers have low stocks of Pilot’s FriXion erasable pens and Paper Mate Flair markers – and prices are high for stationery and other school supplies in demand.

And Rowe isn’t alone, retailers face a storm of challenges – higher production costs, freight delays from China and other Asian countries, and sky-high shipping rates – as they’re gearing up for the industry’s second sales season.

โ€œHopefully when it all catches up we have more stock,โ€ Rowe said in her store filled wall to wall with a colorful array of pens and markers. “Business has been really slow.”

After a year of babysitting their children at home, parents are eager for school to resume.

Stimulus checks and early tax credits for children from the administration of US President Joe Biden are expected to boost sales of back-to-school products, especially shoes and clothing, after last year’s spending on computers laptops, headphones and other equipment for distance learning. The National Retail Federation expects total back-to-school spending to increase 6.4% to $ 108.1 billion this year. Average spending for all age groups is expected to be $ 2,049, up 10.8%.

But as a result of retailers’ decision to trim inventory, shoppers may find fewer discounts, lower markdowns, and less merchandise in stores. Retailers “just don’t know how much to store,” said Stacy DeBroff, founder of marketing data firm Influence Central, which works with retailers such as JCPenney, Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ and Skechers. โ€œThere are always supply issues because the manufacturing was done overseas,โ€ DeBroff said. JCPenney, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Skechers declined to comment on the inventory.

Some – likely bigger retailers – will have put away backpacks and other merchandise from last year that didn’t sell, said Matt Kramer, national consumer and retail leader of KPMG. โ€œI think they’re very careful not to give additional discounts as their inventory starts to go down,โ€ Kramer said.

Macy’s (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ has worked to bring in denim clothes, school uniforms and small electronics, CFO Adrian Mitchell said at a recent investor conference. โ€œWe think it’s better to potentially lose a sale due to lack of supply than to buy too much and have markdown products at higher rates,โ€ Mitchell said.

Target (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ started putting backpacks on its retail space much earlier this year, around the end of May, a month or earlier than usual, data firm StyleSage said.

โ€œWe continue to move backpacks and pencils,โ€ said Brett Rose, general manager of United National Consumer Suppliers, a wholesale distributor whose retail customers include Walmart’s Sam’s Club (NYSE :), Amazon (NASDAQ) ๐Ÿ™‚ and Five Below (NASDAQ :).

Rose said he’s usually finished bringing these products by May or June – at the latest.

During the second quarter, retailers imported lower volumes of popular back-to-school items compared to the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, according to Panjiva, the trade data company of S&P Global (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ Market Intelligence. . For example, retailers’ backpack imports, up 9.8% from the second quarter of 2020, were 15.2% lower than in the same period in 2019, Panjiva said. Imports of children’s footwear and clothing, up 64.4% from 2020, were 12.6% lower than the amount imported during the same period in 2019.

Overall, retailers have so far cut a smaller proportion of backpacks and discounts are on average lower, according to data company StyleSage. He sees similar models in other clothing categories.

Experts say back to school may offer a glimpse of what to expect this Christmas as retailers scale back their offers to limit risk.

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