Stores prepare for back-to-school shoppers on tax-free days.
The back-to-school aisles at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers on Pleasant Crossing Boulevard were buzzing with activity Thursday morning in preparation for a busy weekend.
Wal-Mart workers stocked shelves with school supply staples like pencils, paper, erasers and notebooks. Another employee stood on a mechanical lift, adjusting a sign that overlooked the area as a handful of customers holding school supply lists browsed the aisles with their children.
“We expect this weekend to be one of our biggest weekends,” store manager Tina Budnaitis said. “It should be equal to a Black Friday.”
The back-to-school shopping season — an important period in retail — is in full swing in stores across the country. But Wal-Mart and
other retailers in Arkansas are preparing for the busiest twoday stretch of the season as the state holds its annual sales tax holiday beginning today.
Arkansas has carved out 48 hours in which state and local sales taxes will not be collected on certain items. The tax-free event — which began at 12:01 a.m. this morning and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday — is expected to lure larger numbers of shoppers to stores.
“It’s definitely one of the busiest times of the year for our merchants,” said Linda Hinton, general manager of The Promenade at Chenal in Little Rock. “We expect them to be full, for all of the parking spaces to be full, for all of the restaurants to be catering to folks. … I expect the whole weekend to be very busy.”
Overall, back-to-school spending will generate a projected $83.6 billion in U.S. sales this year, according to data from the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics. The retail trade group said projected sales are a 10 percent increase from the same period a year ago as consumer confidence grows.
Families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade are expected to spend $29.5 billion, which would be the second highest level on record and an average of $687.72 per family. College spending is estimated to reach a record level of $54.1 billion and an average of $969.88 per student.
“Families are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more confident about the economy,” National Retail Federation Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said in a statement. “With stronger employment levels and a continued increase in wages, consumers are spending more and we are optimistic that they will continue to do so throughout the rest of the year.”
An increasing number of shoppers are tackling their back-to-school lists earlier to avoid crowds or spread out their spending, according to National Retail Federation data. But retailers believe traffic and sales should increase across Arkansas this weekend as customers take advantage of sales tax savings and other discounts on items such as clothing, shoes and school supplies.
Shoppers will not have to pay taxes on clothes under $100 per item, accessories under $50, school supplies, school art supplies and school instructional materials.
“Tax free weekends are always a great traffic driver for us so we don’t expect this weekend to be any less,” said Josh Tisdale, general manager of the J.C. Penney store at Shackleford Crossing in Little Rock. “As we kick off the second half of the year this is one of our premiere events outside of holiday. So it’s really, really important that we’re taking care of our customers by putting up some great deals, some great merchandise as they’re getting ready for sending their kids back to school.”
Rogers resident Kelly Milbrodt and her 12-yearold daughter, Marissa, were among the customers getting an early start as they looked for school supplies at Wal-Mart on Thursday morning.
Milbrodt said she doesn’t typically begin checking items off her daughter’s back-toschool list until August. So she still has shopping to do and plans to take advantage of the tax-free savings this weekend. Milbrodt added most of her attention during the 48-hour period will be on clothing.
“We’ll try to go early to beat the crowds,” Milbrodt said.
Online shopping continues to grow in popularity throughout the U.S., which has led to store closings and sagging sales at most traditional brick-andmortar retailers this year. But back-to-school shopping largely remains an in-store event. Nearly three times as many consumers surveyed by New York-based consulting firm Deloitte said they plan to do their back-to-school spending in stores.
Budnaitis, the Wal-Mart manager in Rogers, said her store will be staffed much like it would on Black Friday in anticipation of large numbers this weekend. Wal-Mart also is offering other convenient options for customers who don’t want to fight the crowds with an expanded list of items that are available to order online for store pickup or home delivery. The retailer also has integrated school lists with its website, giving customers the ability to get everything with one click.
Meanwhile, several malls will hold promotional events to attract shoppers. A school supply giveaway will be held today at Central Mall in Fort Smith, while The Promenade at Chenal has partnered with Goodwill to host a back-toschool donation drive. Meanwhile, The Outlets of Little Rock will have food trucks and entertainment throughout taxfree weekend.
“This is about the time of year we’re not only kicking off back-to-school and that big sales time, but also getting geared up for holiday,” said Hinton, The Promenade at Chenal’s general manager. “So this whole August through the end of the year we expect to be pretty busy.
“I think it changes the mood for the merchants themselves … You can tell they’re starting to get excited about year-end and all of the sales activities that really kind of kick off around this time of year.”
Andrew Kemp, 9, a fifth-grader at Janie Darr Elementary in Rogers, shops for school supplies this week with his mother, Holly Kemp, and sister Noelle, 2, at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Pleasant Crossing Boulevard in Rogers.
Employee Estela Martinez stocks school supplies this week at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Pleasant Crossing Boulevard in Rogers.