Back-to-School Ain’t What It Used to Be


When my children were of school age, back-to-school season used to be one my favorite times of the year. Zig-zagging my way through the aisles of my favorite stores for supplies, clothes and the latest in calculators and computers was a necessary evil — but a challenge worth pursuing.

Well, back-to-school season is nearing again, and in addition to being a hectic time for parents, it’s also a vital time for a broad range of retailers. So let’s take a stroll down some of the aisles that parents and students will frequent before heading back to homeroom.

Department stores still are king of the back-to-school wardrobe, so retailers from Kohl’s (NYSE:KSS) to Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) to Target (NYSE:TGT) will line up sales and marketing campaigns galore to drive parents and students into their maze of offerings. Each of these stores carries not only its own brands but a range of designer and name-brand lines across a wide price-range.

Then there’s the wave of clothes-specific retailers — as long as parents don’t mind stalking parking spots in the mall. From jeans and crew shirts at Gap (NYSE:GPS) to graphic tees, flannel and gingham shirts at Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF), American Eagle (NYSE:AEO) or Aeropostale (NYSE:ARO), you can bet Orange Julius will be seeing plenty of more walk-bys as the days go by.

Need some sneakers or shorts for gym class? (Is gym class still part of any curriculum?) Again, the mall comes through with Foot Locker (NYSE:FL), Finish Line (NASDAQ:FINL) and Under Armour (NYSE:UA)

Of course, school isn’t just a fashion show, so the kids will actually need school supplies. The list of outlets for the pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks, binders, markers runs the gamut of the retailing world.

But first and foremost on those lists are the traditional supply retailers like Office Depot (NYSE:ODP) — who, judging by their most recent results, could use your business — as well as Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) and Officemax (NYSE:OMX). Of course, maybe you should get to those guys early, as brick-and-mortar stores are continuing to go the way of the dinosaur.

In fact, looking at today’s back-to-school frenzy is really looking into the future of retailing. Sure, there’s all the aforementioned options — but really, you don’t have to go into a mall, strip center or standalone building to buy clothes, markers or sneakers. Every store mentioned has extensive online capabilities allowing you to simply browse, order and wait for the packages.

Shopping for back-to-school also involves more e-tailers like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) than traditional retailers — and even traditional bookseller Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) has gotten more involved in the online fray.

Anything you need, from books to supplies you can order up on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and if your back-to-school means heading off to college, dialing up any of the above will get you an entire dorm room full of computers, bedding and bookshelves.

Buying books and school gear used to be a laborious task at the bookstore. Now, you can simply pre-order all your books from Amazon, buy your sweatshirt from Barnes and Noble — which now runs numerous collegiate bookstores — or bid on your football ticket package on eBay. You can find the latest and greatest iGear on the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) site, or PCs and printers galore from Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) or Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ).

What could be simpler?

Perhaps what we really need, though is a newer way to ring in the season: How about a morning set aside strictly for back-to-school online shopping? Summer’s own Black Monday?

Then we can go to the barbershop for a new haircut: computers can’t do that yet, right?

Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at As of this writing, he was long AAPL.

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