The back-to-school shopping rush peaks this weekend as retailers celebrate Florida’s annual sales tax holiday.
Starting Friday and lasting through Sunday, the holiday means customers can skip the sales tax on purchases of clothes and shoes costing up to $60; school supplies up to $15; and personal computers and related accessories at $750 or less.
Even though she knows stores will be crowded, Angela Miller plans to be out this weekend.
“Basically, it’s just a good way to save a little bit of money so why spend it if you don’t have to?” said Miller, visiting Volusia County from Tampa with her family. “I just hope they keep doing it every year.”
While the sales tax holiday ran as long as 10 days two years ago, the shortened back-to-school season still represents what the Florida Retail Federation deems the second-busiest shopping holiday of the year.
Spending is expected to be up this year, with the health of the economy and higher consumer confidence making customers “a little more comfortable spending additional money this year than maybe they would in the past,” said James Miller, a spokesman for the retail federation.
And since you don’t need kids to save on clothes and computer gear, plenty of stores are offering special sales to capitalize on the increased traffic, said Kristina Circelli, marketing director at the Volusia Mall and the Pavilion in Port Orange.
“This is a great opportunity for shoppers to save even more while they shop for back-to-school essentials,” Circelli said. “Many stores are running additional promotions and providing special offers in addition to the sales tax discount.”
What’s covered under the holiday?
Personal computers and related technology up to $750 rejoin this year’s list of eligible supplies after being excluded last year.
Clothing and shoes under $60 each.
School supplies like pens, pencils, erasers, rulers and glue costing no more than $15 per item.
Online orders of eligible merchandise will not be charged sales tax even if the items are delivered beyond the sales tax holiday.
What’s not covered?
Pretty much everything else — including books, other than the Bible.
How much do people spend?
The National Retail Federation estimates that the average family will spend $688 on clothes, supplies and accessories – up 8 percent from last year.
Miller with the Florida federation said stores also benefit when customers purchase “secondary items” that aren’t covered by the sales tax holiday “because you had the extra savings you had the opportunity to buy them now.”
Does it really make a big difference in sales?
Though 16 states now offering discount options for back-to-school preparations, not everyone thinks they’re a bargain.
A legislative analysis estimated the holiday period will reduce state revenue by $26.6 million and local government revenue by $6.8 million.
Meanwhile, a study released by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Tax Foundation found that shoppers waited for the sales tax holiday to buy eligible items, “thereby slowing sales in the weeks prior to and following the holiday.”
The Tax Foundation also questioned the expense of having to recalibrate store computers for the discount periods and called the holidays “a gimmick that distracts policymakers and taxpayers from real, permanent, and economically beneficial tax reform.”
“I know there are reports out there saying these sales-tax holidays aren’t that good for retailers,” Miller said. “One thing I would say is if that was the case, retailers wouldn’t be making this one of their significant legislative priorities year in and year out.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.