The Link Between Back-to-School and Holiday Sales – Does it Still Exist?

Will the recent back-to-school news and trends translate into positive holiday sales?  Traditionally, back-to-school sales trends have provided a glance at the future sales activities retailers can expect in the holiday season.  When mom or dad is out purchasing Junior’s backpack and sneakers, they are often tempted to pick up a few extra items for themselves, which has typically provided insight into the upcoming holiday shopping season.

July sales results have provided a good start to the back-to-school shopping season.  Same-store sales — sales from stores opened at least a year — grew 4.4% in July from a year ago, according to the Thomson Reuters Same Store Sales Index, which tracks 25 retailers.  Although these sales results don’t include Walmart ( who does not issue monthly sales reports), discounters appear to be the big winners in July with an average 7.1% increase in same-store sales.  Department stores also reported a 3.4% increase in same-store sales.

Within the group of retailers noting positive July sales, we see Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and specialty retailer Victoria’s Secret making positive strides.  The results from these retailers seem to indicate that mom and dad are opening their wallets more for themselves and their family beyond the back-to-school supply list.  In another year, I might be bolder and more optimistic about the future results associated with the holiday shopping season.

However, just this past week we saw how tenuous the current state of the U.S. economy actually is.  With a 500-point drop in the Dow and continuing concerns about a “double-dip,” shoppers may have a renewed concern about opening up their wallets.  Also, the continuing unemployment levels still weigh heavy on the minds of many shoppers.   Although the U.S. has made some progress with unemployment, the news was not as positive as many hoped. For July 2011, unemployment is at 9.1%–a number disappointingly similar to the 9.5% of July 2010.

Given the uncertainty, do you think back-to-school season is still a strong indicator for holiday sales? What issues or trends have you noticed that might affect the back-to-school season and holiday season?