Weekly sales see a boost by b-t-s spending.

Sales-tax holidays for school-related products coupled with bargain-hunting consumers are giving retail sales a boost this back-to-school shopping season, according to just-released data.

And in a research note to investors from Telsey Advisory Group, American Eagle Outfitters Inc. is seen as this season’s winner in the teen segment.

Regarding sales, The Retail Economist-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index jumped 2.4 percent to 117.9 from the prior week for the period ended Aug. 5. This past Saturday is noted as one of the busiest b-t-s shopping days of the season (the other, according to ShopperTrak, is this coming Saturday, which will be Aug. 12).

Year-over-year, the weekly sales index showed a “moderated” gain of 1.1 percent, said Michael Niemira, chief economist of The Retail Economist LLC. “The back-to-school shopping season continues to drive sales and was helped by 10 states having sales-tax holidays for school-type expenditures during the latest reporting period,” he said. “For the second consecutive week, interestingly, business was strongest for traditional grocery stores, followed by more back-to-school areas of the industry.”

In a separate report from ShopperTrak, researchers at the firm said “in terms of in-store of execution, the two most critical weeks of the entire 10-week b-t-s period are upon us, and the favored busiest week will begin [this past Sunday]. However, though historical traffic data indicates that [National Retail Federation] week 28, which spans Aug. 6 to Aug. 12, will likely see the highest traffic numbers, there’s no guarantee. Retailers need to be aware of  everything from school-start dates, to weather patterns, to a parent’s whim, which all affect traffic levels.”

Brian Field, director of advisory services at ShopperTrak, said successful retailers “are cognizant of 2017 back-to-school traffic patterns — and they leverage data when shaping their operations. Specifically, astute retailers will base staffing off of the historical ebbs and flows of shoppers during back- to-school. This ensures STAR (shopper-to-associate ratio) is optimized, so that associates can offer top-notch customer service, while not overspending on labor.”

Another factor driving traffic and sales is the promotional cadence. And in the specialty apparel segment, the markdowns are running high, according to TAG analysts who conducted field research this past week in the Boston area. “Overall, the environment is promotional, but that is the cost of doing business at this point,” they explained in their report. “While we saw plenty of 30 to 50 percent off signs throughout our tour, we did not see unplanned markdowns, in our view. The promotional signage at this point is a necessary cost of doing business to drive traffic. Having said that, we see traffic as solid this year compared to last year, while promotional activity appears controlled. Inventory levels by and large appeared clean, in our view, and denim looks to be slightly more emphasized this year.”

The TAG researchers also noted that while the high-waisted jeans trend is apparent, “we view it as complementary to the broader skinny fashion cycle that remains in place. In general, we see retailers that have had fashion issues as more or less making progress toward improving the offering. Even among the traditional specialty retailers, the floor sets appeared to be in a ‘wear-now’ mode, as we saw very little by way of outerwear during our visits.”

The “wear now” mode, according to market sources, has gained momentum this year as retailers push back outerwear to later in the season. Warmer weather patterns across the U.S. helps. Last year, the months of October, November and December set records for higher temperatures, which impacted floor sets of outerwear.

A look from the AEO Pride collection benefiting It Gets Better Project.

A look from the AEO Pride collection benefiting It Gets Better Project. 

With the teen apparel players, TAG analysts said “American Eagle remains the winner. As with previous shopping tours, our group preferred American Eagle in the teen space. A&F and Hollister were both called as promotional, while appearing heavy on summer inventory for clearance.”

“On the other hand, shoppers in our group were more impressed with American Eagle’s denim offering, omnichannel approach, along with a dedicated area that was unique to Boston, while the store also appeared cleaner from an inventory perspective,” the TAG researchers said. “The Gap location we visited was also well received on our tour, as the store did not appear overly promotional, the inventory levels seemed appropriate, and the price points on denim were not marked down.”

They also noted that Zara had “scored high marks on our tour, as it continued to rate well for its of-the-moment fashion offering.”

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