You may have noticed — with the door hardly shut on the last school year, merchants are already gearing up for another back-to-school season.

New Jersey Retail Merchants Association president John Holub agrees: The back-to-school store activity is getting earlier. He says a big reason is, "this is a really important time for retailers."

It's second only to Christmas for stores, he says.

"I think that you have seen in the last couple of years, promotions starting earlier and earlier," he said.

Holub says retailers are trying to respond to a school needs marketplace that has evolved into a quest for more and more bargains.

"You are seeing a little bit of 'creep' of promotions starting a little bit earlier," he said. "And I think that one of the main reasons is that we have seen a recent trend in the last couple of years that consumers are actually waiting later now to begin their purchases. It is obviously a trend that we have seen since 2008-2009, when consumers started to become extremely price conscious."

Holub also says the days of going to shop and getting notebooks and pencils are long gone. It is electronic — everything from computers to smartphones — that are hot items these days. And the parents of college students know that they have to be ready to start the school year a little earlier, especially if students are going away.

For college students who are going away, shopping involves purchasing everything from bedding to laptops to smartphones to tablets.

Holub says he expects to see the hottest time for back-to-school promotions toward middle to early August, when you really start seeing some promotions, "probably encouraging a lot more people to come out and shop."

And The National Retail Federation should be putting out its retail sales projections, within the next week or so,. So we will have some sense of what its expectations are for the season.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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