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A mother with children walking into the old Navy store in Timonium in 2011. The National Retail Federation predicted a drop in the next month’s back-to-school spending, which could be a harbinger of things to come for retailers this holiday season. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

Drop predicted in back-to-school spending

The National Retail Federation predicted a drop in the next month’s back-to-school spending, which could be a harbinger of things to come for retailers this holiday season.

Families expect to spend about 6 percent less on back-to-school shopping this year than they did in 2014, according to the NRF’s annual report released Wednesday — a decrease from $669.28 to $630.36 for families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Over the last decade, back-to-school spending has increased 42 percent.

That’s bad news for retailers, who consider the back-to-school season a barometer for holiday sales later this year, said Tom Saquella, spokesperson for the Maryland Retail Association. (The MRA is searching for a new president, and Saquella, who served as the organization’s head for 25 years before retiring in 2010, is serving as a consultant in the meantime.)

Beyond suppliers of school-specific items like pens and pencils, back-to-school season is an important time in the retail calendar for clothing stores and other retailers.

Although the winter holidays are the most critical season for retailers, back-to-school is about even with spring sales as a runner-up, Saquella said. Back-to-school is when new fall fashions debut on clothing racks, just as around Easter is when spring and summer styles become heavy sellers.

And over the past decade, back-to-school sales have rocketed upward. But this year, the NRF’s report found, families are more likely to reuse items from last year than buy a whole new wardrobe, computer or binder of supplies.

“It’s unlikely most families would need to restock and replenish apparel, electronics and supplies every year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a statement. “Parents this summer will inventory their children’s school supplies and decide what is needed and what can be reused, which just makes good budgeting sense for families with growing children.”

A positive for retailers is that fewer consumers indicated they will be as concerned with finding sales and bargains this year, which the NRF concluded was evidence of higher levels of confidence with the economy. The organization is optimistic that a confident mindset could help counter the slow growth and even decline in the retail sector over the last few months, the report said.

Although he hadn’t yet had time to examine the NRF’s projections, Saquella said that the dour back-to-school forecast might underestimate the growth in back-to-school sales for college students, who are living in dorm rooms at increasingly higher rates.

“What they’ve really jumped on is young kids going to college and getting furnishings for their dorm room,” Saquella said. “That really adds to the totality of sales.”

The most crucial time of the back-to-school period for Maryland retailers will be tax-free week, which this year runs from Aug. 9 to Aug. 15. During this week, all clothing and footwear items less than $100 are exempt from the Maryland state tax, which helps in-state stores compete with outlets in Delaware and many online stores, neither of which are subject to a state tax.

“It levels the playing field for Maryland for at least a week,” Saquella said. “It’s a real goose for Maryland retailers.”