The back-to-school season is the second-biggest selling period behind the winter holidays. But you wouldn't know it by the numbers so far this year.
According to an Associated Press report this week, shoppers aren't digging into back-to-school sales like they usually do at this time of year. Analysis by the International Council of Shopping Centers shows that retail revenue rose 3.8 percent in July, the slowest pace since March.
(See more: Yahoo! Shopping Back to School guide)
The back-to-school season runs mid-July through mid-September, so these numbers are considered an early indicator on the season.
The good news for shoppers is that retailers tend to react swiftly after news like this hits. When retail numbers start to go down, discount placards start to go up, in the stores and online. These guys don't fool around.
"It was a lousy start," Walter Loeb, a New York-based independent retail consultant, told AP. "There will be even more discounts to make up the sales."
Indeed, deep discount deals are already starting to surface. Let's take a look.
If you've never gone shopping for a bike with a third-grader, I really recommend it. The best part is when your nine-year-old son test drives an adult mountain bike through the aisles, then knocks down a giant display rack of basketballs. Then the basketballs bounce in every direction, knocking over still more displays, in a kind of retail disaster fusion reaction supernova. Good times. I speak from experience.
Anyway, now's your chance: Outdoor recreation specialist REI has announced cuts of up to 50 percent off clearance bicycles, as well as men's, women's and kids' apparel. "That's tied with our mention from last week as the best discount we've seen on these items since June, when we saw up to 65% off clearance items," says Dealnews.com.
If you (or your back-to-school student) is planning ahead for those cruel, rainy autumn days, REI is always good for getting those dead serious jackets. This Woolrich Acclimatize jacket, for instance, is in closeout sale at $61.73 – a 52 percent savings off the usual tag price of $129.00.
On the discount furniture end of things, don't forget about the big box stores, which make a rigorously annual push for the back-to-school crowd with inexpensive items for the discerning dorm or off-campus dweller. Target recently announced cuts of up to 50 percent on select furniture – chairs, side tables, bookcases, coffee tables, media cabinets, even armoires and entire kitchen table sets.
Space is at a premium in dorm rooms, and there's an entire industry devoted to making small, efficient, durable and inexpensive items for campus. For instance, this end table with tuckaway storage ottoman, cut to $74.98 from the regular price of $149.99. If you want to get crazy with it, there's a matching coffee table with two more storage ottomans thrown in – down to $89.98 from $179.99.
These items might be aimed at students and parents, but you can find all manner of furniture slotted for deep discount. Personally, I prefer comfort-ready goodies like this home theater recliner recently discounted at Wal Mart to the tune of $134. "That's $16 under our April shipped mention of this recliner in black and the lowest total price we've seen for this recliner in any color. It's also $109 under the lowest total price we could find for a comparable recliner elsewhere," according to Dealnews.com.
I fondly anticipate the retirement lifestyle, where I can sit in one of these things someplace in Florida, read Agatha Christie books all day, and complain about the air conditioning. I am totally not kidding.
Apparel and shoes
News of slow sales is trickling in from other retail sectors as well. According to an analysis at CNBC, several factors are crimping sales for apparel retailers, including elevated gas prices and increased payroll taxes. American Eagle Outfitters and Aéropostale both warned investors about slower-than-expected sales and lower earnings expectations.
American Eagle has taken quick action, offering 60 percent off all clearance items in stores and at AE.com. The 60% off discount is automatically applied once an AE Clearance item is added to the ae.com shopping bag, and the offer can be combined with other discount offers.
So let's say you're interested in a pair of Palladium Pampa Thermal Boots. And, frankly, who isn't? Browse the American Eagle online clearance bins, and you'll find them already at nearly half off, from $180 to $99.99. Who thinks of thermal boots in August? Moms, that's who. You might think December will never come, but it always does. It always does.
Of course, with the young people today, it always boils down to an electric screen of some sort in the end. Back-to-school season always brings a run on laptop computers, and both retailers and manufacturer-direct online operations are looking to move some product. On the low end of things, Toshiba Direct is selling its Satellite Celeron Dual 1.9GHz 16" Laptop for $337.49, plus $30 shipping and handling. "That's $13 under our mention from three weeks ago, and the the lowest total price we've seen for a 15.6" Toshiba Satellite laptop with a 500GB hard drive and this processor," " says Dealnews.com.
Bear in mind that when you order direct from Toshiba, the product is actually custom built, so you can noodle around with the specs before placing your order.
If you're looking to ramp things up a bit and go touchscreen, Dealnews recommends the Lenovo X1 Carbon Ivy i5 Touch Laptop, with a 14-inch display, for $1,215 with coupon and free shipping: "With free shipping, that's $71 under our mention from two weeks ago and the lowest total price we've seen for any Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon touchscreen Ultrabook." Features include an Intel Core i5-3337U 1.8GHz Ivy Bridge dual-core processor, 14" 1600x900 LED-backlit touchscreen LCD, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, webcam, 4-cell battery, and Windows 8 64-bit.
Look for the deep discount sales to persist through early September as retailers look to adjust to this year's back to school season, and its slower-than-expected sales.
*Yahoo! Shopping was not compensated by any brands listed within this article.