by Doug Desjardins

For department stores and specialty chains, the back-to-school shopping season is second in importance only to Christmas. And this summer, retailers are pulling out all the stops in an effort to grab their share of consumer dollars still in short supply.

The promotions are going after consumers on a number of fronts, using social media, high-tech online marketing and celebrity power to lure shoppers, especially teen girls who represent the sweet spot for retailers. Analysts raised a red flag about the back-to-school season this month when teen-oriented chains like Wet Seal and Buckle reported a surprising drop in July same-store sales.

“We’re going to have a slow, painful back-to-school season,’ predicted David Bassuk, head of research firm AlixPartners.

Not everyone bought into that dire prediction. Amy Noblin, an analyst with Weeden & Co., said July sales are no longer a good barometer for gauging the back-to-school season because consumer buying habits have changed. “Consumers are buying much closer to need,” said Noblin.

But, as always, retailers are leaving nothing to chance and going after sales like there’s no tomorrow.

Macy’s has two separate clothing lines for back-to-school shoppers. Its marquee line is Material Girl, a fashion line for girls created by Madonna and her 13-year-old daughter Lourdes. The retro line with an updated 1980s look is priced from $12 to $40.

Macy’s also has new clothing line for teens inspired by the hit show Glee. The line includes t-shirts and screen-printed tops and is priced from $20 to $35. “Glee fans don’t just watch the show, they live it,” said Robert Marick, executive vice president of Fox Consumer Products. “This retail launch will provide fans a very personal way to extend the Glee experience and express their own Glee personality.”

J.C. Penney is marketing its apparel for teen girls through a promotion with Seventeen Magazine. The department store chain is using Seventeen’s website to create a virtual reality world where girls can try on the latest fashions. Macy’s is staging a similar promotion with its Mystylelab.com, a website that showcases teen fashions and allows teenagers to post their own fashion photos. And retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch is encouraging girls to post photos of themselves in their new clothes for a chance to win a movie audition.

Kmart, which tends to center its back-to-school promotions on young celebrities, has chosen Selena Gomez for its 2010 event. Kmart is selling a line of teen apparel under the Dream Out Loud by Selena Gomez banner with a variety of dresses, skirts, tops and accessories all priced under $24.

Wal-Mart isn’t partnering with a celebrity this year for its clothing line but is rolling out new items for its Hannah Montana brand for tweens, including a sequin top-and-legging combo for $10 and a matching dress and headband for $14.

Resources

Retailers Get Creative for Back to School

Glee Apparel Line Hits Stores This Week

Kmart and Selena Gomez Dream out Loud

Wal-Mart Back to School Girls

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