It’s time for my favorite annual holiday which technically isn’t an “official” day, but actually several weeks leading up to one big day. Your day may not be the same as mine. But trust me, it’s the one holiday most seasoned parents look forward to more than all the others combined. It’s the back to school season, and yes, I am so glad it’s finally here! I’ve got my Mardi Gras beads on, I’ve hung celebratory colored lights on the bushes and trees outside my front door; and have prepared a monumental feast with all the trimmings that we’ll still be talking about come Thanksgiving. All in celebration of the fact that my son goes back to school (also commonly referred to as the “I survived a summer with a teenager in the house” holiday).


One of the great things about working for The Nielsen Co., the world’s largest market research company which provides measurement services for industries like media, online, mobile and consumer packaged goods, is that we conduct all types of great studies. Nielsen recently released a Back To School Forecast based on more than 110,000 UPCs in the school supply category, and more than 400 million school supply transactions at U.S. food, drug, mass merchandiser stores (including Wal-mart), dollar, club stores and online sales. We forecasted a modest increase in dollar sales on back to school items, up 1.7 percent to $2.6 billion. The forecast makes a few relevant observations including this one:

Shop now, shop early. Many prices for back to school items are up in 2010 compared to 2009. Nielsen’s research shows that the lowest prices are available in July (down 55 percent) and August (down 50 percent.)

As a parent, you don’t have to tell me to shop early—I’m already there! And not just for the price savings. I’m already piling up the shopping cart with spiral notebooks, #2 pencils and multi-colored index cards with visions of my couch pillows and cushions being returned to their natural plump state vs. the pitiful deflated look of someone-has-been-lying-on-me-for-12-hours-straight-playing-video-games they have been shamefully boasting for the last nine weeks.

In the forecast my colleague James Russo states, “Unlike the holiday season, many consumers view back to school shopping as required versus discretionary purchases.” I totally agree! It is required that I restore harmony to my “there’s nothing to do around here” home by joyfully and strategically overstuffing that $40 backpack with a rainbow of supplies: pastel pink erasers; black, blue and red ball point pens; yellow and blue highlighters (which will disappear before the end of the third week of school, but not to worry, I have already hidden the backups). The reason parents view these items as required is because, once they are in hand, we can officially mark the day we get our sanity back—and sanity is required to get us through the next nine months. How else could we handle the ongoing saga of “Have you finished your homework? What do you mean you don’t have a pencil? I just bought you 10 packs of pencils three weeks ago!” See? You need sanity to come out on top of discussions like that.

The July-September “Back to School” season is important for the $7 billion office/school supply category, generating nearly 40 percent of annual dollar sales and more than 50 percent of annual unit sales. Nielsen forecasts back to school unit sales for this category to drop 5.25 percent to $1.04 billion. So even with the decline, our back to school shopping really adds up. Are you using your consumer power wisely by shopping at stores which support your schools and/or community?

Parents of school-aged children unite! Education continues to be critical to African-Americans. Be sure your child is in school on Day One and that they not only have the supplies they need to be successful students, but your support as well. No matter how harried you get, take the time to look your child in the eye and ask them each day, how their school day went. Help your child with their homework every night (even if that means calling the ex who understands math better than you). Our kids are our future. Which means your kids are my future, and vice versa. So I’m counting on you to do your part. And I’ll do mine.

Now, with our school supply shopping completed and handled with care, let the holiday officially begin. Happy first day of school!

(Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is the senior vice president of Public Affairs and Government Relations for The Nielsen Co., the world’s leading market research company. For more information, visit

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