MYRTLE BEACH — Almost as soon as the Target in Myrtle Beach set up its elaborate back-to-school area, the questions started coming.
When is the sales tax holiday? Have the schools put out their required supply lists? Will this item or that item be tax-free?
It started two weeks ago, Ashley Gonzalez, a leader on duty last week at the Target on Seaboard Street, said while standing amid bins of packaged pencils, erasers and glue sticks. Tax-free weekend, you kind of get an added bonus.
Savvy shoppers -- locals and tourists alike, back-to-school shoppers and others just looking for deals -- know the drill when it comes to South Carolinas sales tax holiday, which kicks off Friday and runs through Sunday.
During the three-day tax-free period, shoppers can snag a number of items -- including clothes, computers and back-to-school gear -- without paying the states 6 cent sales tax and local sales taxes. On top of that, many retailers roll out extra discounts during the weekend aiming to make sure their store is a must-stop on shoppers lists.
And unlike a usual sale, theres a psychological appeal for some shoppers who get a sense of satisfaction buying that new outfit or computer and not having to pay sales tax to the government. S.C. shoppers skip out paying roughly $3 million in sales taxes during the tax-free weekend, according to the S.C. Department of Revenue, money that wont go into state coffers.
People think they can take a swipe at the government, said Britt Beemer of Americas Research Group, which gauges consumer behavior. They love to take advantage of it.
That makes for busy shopping centers, to the delight of retailers, who say the tax-free weekend is one of the biggest shopping periods of the year behind Christmas. Sales can increase between 15 percent and 18 percent during a sales tax-free period, Beemer said.
I can tell you last year in August we had a very, very good month, predominantly because of the tax-free weekend, said Steve McGhee, general manager of Coastal Grand mall in Myrtle Beach. We do a lot of business those three days.
Though billed as a way to help parents save on back-to-school purchases, others take advantage of the tax-free period by stocking up on new outfits or splurging on a new computer. Tourists who learn about the tax-free period while in town also take advantage of it, retailers said.
Its not just for the students. Its a benefit for everyone, said Nick Barrett, general manager of Tanger Outlets two area centers, off U.S. 501 and off U.S. 17 at S.C. 22. Its just a huge weekend for people to save.
N.C. nixes its tax holiday for 2014
North Carolina also has its tax-free holiday starting Friday and running through Sunday, but this will be the last one.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed new tax law last week that includes a provision that does away with the states sales tax holidays, including the back-to-school in August and Energy Star in November, starting in 2014.
That could benefit Horry County retailers starting next year if deal-seeking residents in North Carolina opt to come to South Carolina for its tax holiday.
Folks on bordering counties will have more than an opportunity to cross state lines and do their shopping, said Christie Burris, spokeswoman for the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, which has a Facebook page aiming to save the states holiday.
North Carolina has had the back-to-school sales tax holiday since 2002; it takes away roughly $12 million to $13 million from state coffers, the state revenue department estimated.
The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan group that researches fiscal policy, criticize sales tax holidays, saying that its a substitute for better sales tax systems. The foundation says that most shoppers who spend during the tax-free days would have bought those items anyway at other times.
If a state has to offer a holiday from its tax system, its a sign that theres a problem with the system itself, Joseph Henchman, the foundations vice president for legal and state projects, said in a news release. If politicians want to save money for consumers, then they should cut the sales tax rate year-round.
Back to school
Shoppers love the holiday and the extra deals that come with it, retailers said.
Theres something about the word tax-free that certainly brings the customer out, said Joe Perl, general manager of Myrtle Beach Mall off U.S. 17 near S.C. 22. Any time you can offer the consumer an opportunity to save money, they take advantage of it.
No doubt many of the shoppers will be parents picking up back-to-school items -- school supply lists in hand -- but national forecasts predict they wont be spending as much as they did last year.
Families nationally are expected to spend an average $634.78 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics -- down from $688.62 last year, according to the National Retail Federations Back-to-School survey. Parents -- who spent a record amount on back to school last year -- are likely to stretch those purchases through this year instead of buying all new stuff, the retail group said.
Still, back-to-school spending is expected to hit $26.7 billion this year, but parents will be looking for deals.
The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind, Matthew Shay, the retail groups president, said in a news release. As they continue to grapple with the impact of increased payroll taxes, Americans will look to cut corners where they can, but will buy what their kids need.
Beemer said more parents -- 44 percent compared to 38 percent last year -- plan to pick up the back-to-school necessities now, then buy other items that can pass as gifts later.
Buy the basics now, then finish up at Christmas, he said.
Gonzalez, of the local Target, said that the tax-free weekend helps parents stretch their dollars, especially if they are trying to outfit several kids. The biggest portion of back-to-school budgets is for clothes and accessories, with most parents nationally planning to spend an average $230.85 for clothes, according to the National Retail Federation.
All kids want new clothes and want to impress their friends, Gonzalez said. This is definitely the weekend to [buy them].
We expect that all of our clothing, accessories and definitely back-to-school will be shopped the most.
Despite the predictions for less back-to-school spending, local retailers said they are hoping that this years tax holiday will be even bigger than last year.
I get the feeling its going to be stronger, said Barrett, of Tanger Outlets. People are in the mode where they are looking for a good deal and thats what the tax-free weekend offers.
Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.