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Retailers are bracing for a wave of typical Texas duty-free weekend shoppers. Will they come?

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The return to offices, schools and social gatherings, in addition to a resurgence in clothing shopping, has prompted retailers to brace for a jackpot-free weekend, typically one of the busiest buys weekends of the year and official start of the new school year.

After losing most of back to school last year as COVID-19 kept children at home, local retailers such as Francesca’s and Academy Sports brace themselves for long lines and crowded aisles as shoppers flock to make purchases without the 8.25% sales tax – in addition to in-store sales aimed at making take consumers out for the three-day tax holiday that begins Friday. But hiding is a wildcard that could disrupt the stores’ best-worked plans: the delta variant.

COVID-19 cases are increasing across Texas and the country as the highly infectious variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly, even carried by people who have been vaccinated. As the weekend approaches and the fourth wave of COVID builds, the question is how many people will brave the crowds looking for good deals and the satisfaction of putting it in the tax department.

First year mom Janaile Villarreal said you won’t find her in stores this weekend looking for clothes and the like

back-to-school items. Ideally, she would be there in person – she needs her growing son to try things on to find the right sizes – but her 11 month old already caught COVID-19 last year and Villarreal is afraid his children can catch the more virulent delta a variant.


“We prefer to pay the tax to keep so many people out of shopping,” Villarreal said.

Retailers such as Francesca’s and Academy Sports, however, are still gearing up for a big weekend, ready to adjust to new COVID concerns with online sales related to curbside and in-store pickup. Tyler Sumrall, an Academy spokesperson, said the Katy-based chain is preparing its staff to adapt on the fly as more customers buy shoes and backpacks in stores or order online. for pickup.

“We expect this to be a very popular option this year,” he said of in-store and curbside pickup. “Especially with the delta variant, we want people to feel safe. “

Before the Delta variant undermined the Summer of Freedom, the signs bode well for a strong back-to-school season for retailers. Households, after accumulating savings at high rates over the past year, have strained themselves with pent-up demand. Consumer spending grew at an annual rate of 12% in the second quarter, following an 11% jump in the first quarter – a triple growth before the pandemic – according to the US Department of Commerce.

The Academy, meanwhile, noticed back-to-school shopping picking up before its usual peak in August.

“I would definitely say that we’ve already seen this influx begin,” Sumrall said. “Traditionally, it doesn’t really go up until the Tax Free Weekend, but we saw it pop up a bit earlier this year due to the circumstances.”

Analysts were anticipating an early start to the season, expecting more than a third of this year’s back-to-school spending to come before August. Consulting firm Deloitte predicts that Houston-area families will spend an average of $ 935 per child, bringing back-to-school spending in the region to $ 1.2 billion this season as schools prepare to reopen after a turbulent year – a major change from 2020, when Deloitte did not conduct Houston’s annual survey due to the pandemic.

Pandemic habits

Electronics were the star of last year’s back-to-school shopping season, but Walmart has said it expects a return to more traditional classroom clothing and items as students prepare to return. at school in person. Consumers are once again buying clothes, which had long sat on store shelves during the pandemic, said Venky Shankar, research director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University.

“Last year there was a huge drop in clothing sales – this year it will be the other way around,” Shankar said. “No more sneakers, no more clothes, no more jeans.”

Shankar said he attributes the early start to pent-up demand for clothes. In June, clothing and accessories sales were up nearly 50% nationwide from a year earlier, compared to 18% for all retail sales, according to the Commerce Department.

At Francesca’s, a chain of clothing stores, “Duty Free Weekend marks a big weekend for us,” said Chris Kaighn, senior vice president of boutiques, real estate and strategic partnerships for the retailer. Houston. He said Francesca’s launched a new e-commerce platform in July to make it easier for consumers to shop online before the season.

Houston consumers plan to stick to the buying habits they adopted during the pandemic, according to the Deloitte survey. Electronics purchases are more likely to be made online, with 46% of respondents planning to spend their back-to-school budget online. Additionally, 53% of local respondents plan to use social media to browse available products, promotions and reviews.

Many parents in the Houston area said they would prefer to buy online, a delta variant or no delta variant. They said they avoided duty-free weekend shopping – even before the pandemic – because they didn’t think saving $ 8 for $ 100 was worth braving the masses looking for discounts, d ‘especially since many retailers are extending tax savings to online shopping.

“I don’t crowd – even before COVID,” Maggie Donovan said when asked about the Tax Free Weekend. “I will buy all duty free offers online. “

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