'Tis the tax-holiday season: Retailers hope school shoppers spark sales

Are you going to shop during the back-to-school sales tax holiday?

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Most Americans have been feeling the economic pinch and keeping their belts tight, but this weekend should give them some breathing room.

The back-to-school sales tax holiday starts at midnight on Friday morning and runs through Sunday. Consumers will be exempt from a 6 percent state sales tax and a local sales tax on clothes under $75 and school supplies under $15.

“It certainly helps, I think right now every little bit helps,” said Elizabeth Mikkelsen of Naples.

Of course, customers aren’t the only ones looking forward to this weekend; retailers are hoping for large sales.

“As the economy continues to improve I think this back-to-school season is going to be healthier than last year. I would anticipate anywhere between five to 10 percent more shoppers,” said Chris Eddy, a team leader at Target at Airport-Pulling Road and Pine Ridge Road.

Many department stores and retail chains are preparing for the big weekend, which is also a measure the potential for the Christmas sales season. In this slowed economy, this weekend may just be the morale booster retailers and consumers need. Sales are predicted to increase this season compared to last, according to the Florida Retail Federation.

A study by the Washington Economic Group Inc. of Coral Gables, found that besides increased sales for retailers the tax holiday actually provided more tax revenue for the state. It reported that the state’s tax revenues increased by $7 million due to the sales tax holiday in August 2010. The Tax Foundation, a conservative organization based in Washington DC disagreed and it’s report stated that the sales tax holiday “does not promote economic growth or significantly increase consumer purchases.”

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Many believe the back-to-school season and sales tax exemptions inspire competition among retailers.

“During these periods they pull out their best sales and best discounts,” said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.

Waterside Shops on Tamiami Trail North will offer a small promotion during the sales tax holiday, said Julie Chirichella guest services supervisor for Waterside Shops.

When someone spends $250 dollars they will get a $10 gift card back. There is a certain allotment of gift cards so it’s a good idea to come in early.

Waterside Shops are also running a competition among community schools. Any individual may come in, shop and log in their purchases with the mall’s management office. The individual has to report, which school they are representing and the school with the highest sales wins. Waterside Shops will donate a portion of total sales back to the winning school for art supplies or classes, said Chirichella.

JCPenney located in Coastland Center mall will be opening earlier and extending its hours, said Glenn Harrell general manager of Coastland Center mall. They will be open Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“Those are incredibly long hours, clearly that shows…they are excited about what the tax free weekend can do for JCPenney and the Coastland customer,” Harrell said.

Sears will be advertising online, in print and via email and texts for the sales tax holiday. “I would definitely make sure I was a rewards member, said Carleton Van Oden general store manager of Sears in Coastland Center mall.

Joining the rewards program is free and members can get advanced promotions via email or text, Oden said. Rewards members get one percent back on their rewards card on purchases made at Sears or Kmart, he said.

Coastland Center mall is a great place for families with school aged children and teenagers, said Harrell.

“We love the tax free weekend, it’s always been good for us,” Harrell said.

Target’s ads will be coming out the week before and during the holiday, Eddy said.

“The main shopping focus is clothing,” he said. If a customer buys five outfits for $10 each they save at least $6, which can be used to buy school supplies.

In the past khaki uniforms have been very popular during this weekend.

“I would encourage shoppers to shop early so they can find the right sizes,” Eddy said.

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Consumers have the opportunity to shop without a sales tax, retailers are able to entice more shoppers and the state might even benefit from it.

The Florida sales tax holiday, first approved in 1998, was not approved by the Florida Legislature in 2008 and 2009. The Office of Economic and Demographic Research, the research arm of the Florida Legislature, has stated that the state loses revenue during these holidays. In 2011, it has estimated that the state will lose $25.5 million in tax revenues and that local governments will lose $5.7 million in tax revenues, said Renee Watters, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Revenue.

McAllister said the Washington Economic Group’s study disproves the idea that people are simply shifting the shopping or that revenue is lost. The “stimulus effect” from the sales tax holiday is not being considered as it should be, he said.

When you “offer something at a greatly reduced price you are betting that it is going to be enough of an attractor,” said John Fleming, the director of communications for the Florida Retail Federation.

“You are not actually going to lose money because they are going to buy over and above the limit,” he said.

McAllister expects a 2 to 4 percent increase in sales. Five percent would represent a booming economy, while 2 to 4 percent is modest, Fleming said.

Retailers get better traffic during the sales tax holiday than when they offer 50 percent off, McAllister said.

“There is something psychological about not wanting to pay tax,” he said. “People just enjoy not paying taxes.”

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