Business

Shoppers brace for shorter, less generous tax-free holiday

Melvin Trochez, with daughter Mia, checks items for his son Bryan's schools supplies shopping list at the back-to-school store section at the Walmart Doral SuperCenter on Aug. 2, as the store prepares for the tax-free holiday. The tax-free holiday is three days this year, from Aug. 5 to Aug. 7, much shorter than years past. Last year the holiday lasted 10 days.
Melvin Trochez, with daughter Mia, checks items for his son Bryan's schools supplies shopping list at the back-to-school store section at the Walmart Doral SuperCenter on Aug. 2, as the store prepares for the tax-free holiday. The tax-free holiday is three days this year, from Aug. 5 to Aug. 7, much shorter than years past. Last year the holiday lasted 10 days. pportal@miamiherald.com

When shoppers flock to stores this weekend looking for tax-free deals, they’ll be faced with more restrictions and fewer days to snag their 7 percent-off, back-to-school items than last year.

“It’s ridiculous,” said annual tax-free holiday shopper Evelyn Stahl. “I’m kind of disturbed that they’ve really limited it this year.”

Floridians have three days — from 12 a.m. Friday to the end of Sunday — to shop for clothing and school-supply items that will be exempt from state and local sales taxes. Last year, the holiday was 10 days long.

Restrictions are also tighter: Only clothing items priced less than $60 and school supplies tagged below $15 will be exempt. That’s also a sizable decrease from last year, when the limit for clothes was $100. This year, Florida’s price caps are the state’s tightest since 2010 and the lowest of any of the 17 states participating in the sales tax holiday.

And for the first time since 2012, Florida removed computers and computer accessories from the list of tax-free items.

Items sold at theme parks, entertainment complexes, hotels and airports still will be taxed.

We are probably going to have [enough] customers during these three days to rival Black Friday.

Eric Burgains, co-manager of the Walmart Doral Supercenter

Stahl said the limitations won’t stop her from shopping for her elementary and middle school-aged grandchildren, but they will make it harder for her family to get what they need.

“It’s a challenge because it’s only [three] days,” said Stahl, who lives in Hallandale Beach. “My grandchildren are not coming back from camp until after this is over, so I think the timing is not good. And I think it’s going to put an unfair burden on the stores. They are going to be mobbed for those [three] days.”

In Miami-Dade and Broward, students return to class Aug. 22.

But James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, said last year’s 10-day holiday was the exception to the rule. In previous years, the holiday lasted about the length of a weekend.

“We were just very fortunate that the [Florida] Legislature gave us 10 days last year,” Miller said. “We feel that sales will still be high this year.”

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, the average family is expected to spend about $673 on apparel, accessories, shoes and school supplies this holiday, up from about $630 in 2015. Sales during the weekend are expected to reach $75 billion, up from $68 billion last year, making it the second-largest shopping weekend after Black Friday.

“People have to go out to buy these supplies regardless. This weekend is just a great way to save 6 or 7 percent,” Miller said. “A lot of families are struggling. To be able to save $10, $20 or $30 is significant for those families.”

$673 Average amount a family with grade school-aged children is expected to spend during the tax-free holiday in 2016, up from $630 in 2015

One of the most significant savings in years past was on computers.

“The sales tax on a $750 computer laptop is a significant chunk of change,” Miller said. “People used to use the money they saved to buy additional accessories.”

To circumvent that change, stores such as Walmart are offering computer deals to run concurrent with the holiday.

Eric Burgains, co-manager of the Walmart Doral Supercenter, said the store is offering rollback deals on electronics and lower prices on some laptops.

Burgains said the store has added a second area for school supplies to mitigate the expected increase in customer traffic due to the shorter holiday.

“We are probably going to have [enough] customers during these three days to rival Black Friday,” Burgains said.

For the first time since 2012, computers and computer accessories are not included in the tax-free holiday in Florida.

Those crowds may soon get smaller.

Shopping in stores is becoming a less popular option. About 61 percent of families with children in grade school will shop at a discount store this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation’s survey. And while that sounds like a lot, it’s the lowest level in the survey’s 11-year history.

The culprit: the growing habit of shopping online. About 46 percent of tax-free holiday shoppers indicated that they expect to buy supplies online this year, compared to 36 percent in 2015.

Miller said retailers across Florida are increasingly looking to improve their online presence and encourage shoppers to look online first, before going in-store, to save time during the busy weekend.

Frequent tax-free holiday shopper Oswald Ferro said he is going to skip the store altogether this year.

“It is not worth it, “ said Ferro, who lives in Hialeah. “[You can] probably find better prices in Amazon and avoid the traffic . . . the heat and usually get it delivered in a couple days at my front door.”

This report also contains comments from members of the Miami Herald / WLRN Public Insight Network, publicinsightnetwork.org.

Florida’s tax free holiday in 2016

When:

12 a.m. Aug. 5 through Aug. 7

The rules:

▪ Applies to clothing items, shoes and accessories priced below $60

▪ Applies to school supplies priced below $15

▪ Computers and computer accessories will be taxed

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