Some Iowa schools are already back in session yet retailers report a significant drop in revenue from school supply sales. That’s even with Iowa’s sales tax “holiday” earlier this month. Retail expert Mae Laatsch says the majority of the back-to-school market is clothing, which is seeing at 12-percent decline in sales, compared to last year.

Laatsch says, “The last week was really the time that was supposed to be the prime season for back-to-school supplies and for some reason, we’re spending money in places other than school supplies.” Sales figures are also down on school-related electronics, including computers, tablets and calculators.

She says Iowans are evidently finding more ways to spend less on back-to-school gear. “People are doing inventory of what they have left from last year,” Laatsch says. “They’re doing neighborhood swaps so they don’t have to buy new. The old is ‘in,’ reusable, green, that kind of theory.”

Shoppers may be hoping desperate retailers offer bigger sales, so she says they’re still holding off on making their purchases. “Maybe they’re waiting for deeper discounts,” Laatsch says.

“Consumers today are much better educated. They will go online and they will shop several outlets and compare prices before they go anywhere. A lot of them, you can buy the stuff online and have it shipped to the store so you don’t pay a shipping charge.”

Families with kids in school are expected to spend about $635 this year, down from around $688 last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Laatsch says revenue from back-to-school sales is a good indicator of how holiday sales will go.