Back-to-school shoppers can save during tax-free weekend
Diane Craigie scoured the aisles of Best Buy in West Ashley recently for an iPad for her 12-year-old son, Connor, who heads back to school at Porter-Gaud this month.
South Carolina's sales-tax holiday starts at 12:01 a.m. Friday and ends at midnight Sunday. Certain items geared toward back-to-school season will be exempt from the state's 6 percent sales tax and any local sales tax.
Some exempt items
Some non-exempt items
On the web
For the complete list, go to www.sctax.org and look under the “What's New” section down page.
Discounting the computer, she plans to spend about $500 on her son and 8-year-old daughter for back-to-school items, such as uniforms, backpacks and supplies.
Craigie said she will probably spend a bit more this year than last.
“The older they get, they want more stuff,” she said.
She also said she might return during tax-free weekend to buy the iPad.
South Carolina's annual back-to-school sales tax holiday starts at 12:01 a.m. Friday and runs through midnight Sunday. It erases the 6 percent state sales tax and any local sales tax on a variety of items, from clothes to computers and bookbags to bedding accessories.
It's set up to help ease the strain on family pocketbooks as they prepare their children for the new school year. And it can be a bonanza for retailers as they set out stacks of paper, pencils, binders and other materials that children and teachers will need for the next nine months.
The amount the average person will spend on back-to-school merchandise will climb to about $689 this year, up $85 over last year, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation.
Altogether, K-12 spending will reach $30.3 billion. Add in college spending and the amount comes to $83.8 billion, the NRF said. Only the holiday shopping season tops back-to-school sales.
The nation's largest retail trade group said parents with growing children will replace and replenish what their children had to “make-do” with last school season, when many people chose to reuse school clothes and gear from the previous year.
“Backpacks rip, pencils break and children grow. There's no way around it,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.
Nevertheless, he said parents will continue to watch their wallets in the less-than-robust economic recovery.
The International Council of Shopping Centers issued a more conservative estimate for back-to-school shopping.
The trade group reported the average shopper will spend about $300 on back-to-school items, but it also said 42 percent of those surveyed say they will spend more this year than last year. “Even more encouraging for retailers is that nearly 20 percent of respondents plan to increase spending by more than 10 percent compared to the 2011 season,” said Michael Niemira, ICSC chief economist and vice president of research.
Like the National Retail Federation, the ICSC said of those who plan to spend more, nearly half indicated they needed to replace wardrobes and school supplies.
Clothing, accessories and electronics will top the list of most-sought-after items.
Parents plan to spend on average about $129 on shoes, $95 on school supplies, $246 on clothes and $218 on electronics, according to the National Retail Federation's survey. Nearly six in 10 will invest in some sort of electronic device, a sharp increase from the 52 percent who planned to buy the items last year.
Electronics giant Best Buy will be ready.
“Everyone that works here will work on tax-free weekend,” said Craig Lawson, a computer specialist at Best Buy near Citadel Mall.
Popular items will be the new ultra-thin, lightweight computers, iPads and e-readers, he said.
“I wouldn't say there is a hot gadget right now,” Lawson said. “Apple TV is probably the hottest.”
The hand-sized device plays digital content originating from iTunes, Netflix and other sources on an enhanced- or high-definition wide-screen TV.
Stores started setting up back-to-school displays after the Fourth of July, and Target at Citadel Mall was no exception.
“I felt that people started shopping earlier and they are spending more,” said Target store team leader David Pickhardt. “But this weekend will kick off back-to-school and back-to-college shopping. It's a big weekend.”
Stay-at-home mom Lauren Brandon was out shopping at Target this week for school supplies, but she plans to shop around on tax-free weekend for uniforms for her two sons, Jack, 8, and Sam, 6, who attend James Island Christian School.
Brandon expects to spend between $300 and $400 on back-to-school items. “Every little bit helps,” she said.
Also shopping at Target for school supplies for his 12-year-old son Christopher, nursing student Gary Gugliotti of James Island said he would be in the stores this weekend too.
“I will probably come back this weekend to buy clothes,” he said.
But not everyone will take advantage of the sales-tax holiday.
Anna Coe, a mother of two young girls, will skip the school sale.
“I'm a bargain shopper till the crowds come around,” the West Ashley parent said while shopping earlier this week with her daughter, Abigail, 9, at Citadel Mall.
And some people want sales taxes dropped more than one weekend a year.
“If politicians want to save money for consumers, then they should cut the sales tax rate year-round,” said Joseph Henchman of the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation.
Nevertheless, loads of shoppers will be out this weekend looking to save a few bucks, and the S.C. Retail Association called the sales tax holiday “a win-win” for everybody.
“Shoppers enjoy the sales and savings, and retailers get a nice boost from it,” said Lisa McGill, the trade group's director of government relations.
Retailers, large and small, also look to cash in on the tax-free weekend in different ways.
To lure in customers, J.C. Penney salons will offer free haircuts to children in grades K-6 not only this weekend but the entire month of August.
And locally owned merchants such as traditional clothier Ben Silver on Charleston's tony King Street will once again offer its warehouse sale at 287 East Bay St. late Friday and during the day Saturday.
“It's the perfect time of year to do it,” said Ben Silver owner Bob Prenner. “It's the dog days of summer. It's the preparation for fall, and it's back to school. It's the perfect weekend.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.