Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
The back-to-school shopping season has been met with mixed reviews by merchants amid a flurry of discounts, increased advertising of the many deals for the period, and the hustle of shoppers along the island's malls and streets.
Stores and informal traders typically report a seasonal spike in the run-up to September, but this year, the competition for the back-to-school dollar appears more intense, and sellers say it's due to cautious buyers who want their dollars to stretch.
Some retailers are optimistic.
"We do a substantial uptake in the four weeks in August," said head of the Ammar's department store, Michael Ammar Jr.
While noting that the season mostly lends itself to "a narrow" concentration of merchandise such as school bags and uniforms, Ammar lauded the added economic benefits.
"Many people tend to only look at text books and uniforms, but tertiary students also shop for groceries and clothes during this period," he said. "Plus, the added foot traffic around the time affords the opportunity for businesses to offer other deals when shoppers come in - which also impacts revenue," he said.
However, some retailers have lamented the "slow pace" of the season.
"This year is off to a slow start," said a representative of Joseph's haberdashery.
"The season is almost over but let's see," the rep said almost fatalistically.
Jamaica is not known to do spending projections or even to tally annual back-to-school spend - though the economic agencies tend to point to the activity in their various analyses. Otherwise, the season is often read by the temperature of retailers.
Jamaica Chamber of Commerce head, Francis Kennedy, is projecting weaker performance in sales volume compared to previous years.
"It is probably the second largest annual selling event, but merchants will be lucky this year if they maintain last year's sales," said Kennedy.
By his reckoning, the prevailing state of the economy, coupled with the loss in standing of the local currency to its US counterpart, will result in a fall-off in spending for the period.
"I think what's going to happen is that parents are just going to buy exactly what they need," he said. "Sales will not go up; in fact, if sales are even the same, the volume will decrease by at least 10 to 12 per cent," he said.
Month-end salary boost
Beckford Street vendor, Janet Walters, expressed a similar cautiously optimistic view. For her, things are a little slow now, but she expects a boost when shoppers pocket their August month-end salaries.
The 52-year-old expects to invest at least J$15,000 for initial stocks of clips, ribbons, socks and merinos along with other items.
With hopes that the volume of sales will allow her to restock after selling the initial goods invested, Walters further expects "at least a J$20,000 profit for the period".
Meanwhile, both Maxie Department Store and Sangster's Bookstore have reported decreases in sales for July. Both entities, like Walters, are hopeful for increased business towards the end of August.
"We see this year being better than 2012, but not as good as previous years, Maxie head, Terrence Williams said, adding that back-to-school gains for the company tend to trump Christmas sales, annually.
August is also the "best month" for Sangster's, but the company said it has already recorded a decline in sales at mid-month, coupled with a one per cent decline for July over the 2012 period.
"We attribute this to persons sourcing second-hand books as well as a decrease in spending power," said Sangster's Nicole Reid.