Retail frenzy over back- to-school items.jpg

Retail frenzy over back- to-school items

YOU MUST have noticed … your mailbox is unusually full with junk mail and your TV viewing and radio listening have been hijacked with countless advertisements. Yes, it’s back-to-school time and the Portuguese hypermarkets are locked in a battle to win the largest slice of the ‘parent market’. From rucksacks to rulers, pencils and paints, the shops are full of the stuff and prices are competitive with a capital C. It’s a fact, back-to-school time is the most lucrative period for retailers apart from Christmas.

Children are being bombarded with information about the latest trendy school bags and matching pencil cases (Spiderman and Noddy are currently very popular) and, before they know it, unsuspecting parents are parting with their hard earned cash. Of course, there are some essential items that need to be bought for the new term (see box), and a recent survey carried out by the Diário de Notícias newspaper set about finding out the best places to buy them and the average amount being spent.

The survey found that no one hypermarket proved to be the cheapest for every item, for example, pencils are cheaper in Jumbo, but erasers are cheaper in Carrefour. However, it is possible to have an idea how much school materials cost for each age group and, it was feasible to rank the stores according to the cost of the total shopping basket.

According to the survey, which saw researchers check the prices at four different hypermarkets – Continente, Jumbo, Feira Nova and Carrefour – it is necessary to spend between 7.50 and 10 euros on school materials for children aged from six to 10. Carrefour proved to be the cheapest for this particular shopping basket, with items costing 7.61 euros. It is important to highlight that the items were chosen according to the lowest price, without taking into consideration the quality or brand.

For pupils aged between 10 and 12 (fifth and sixth year in school), the necessary materials will cost parents a minimum of 13 euros at Carrefour, and up to 17 euros if shopping at Feira Nova. Meanwhile, the total cost of the items needed for children aged 12 to 15 (seventh, eighth and nineth years in school) was very similar to last year, costing parents between 15 and 20 euros.

The cost of materials for pupils aged between 15 and 18 varies according to the subjects chosen. The extra items required for art students proved to be the most expensive, costing between 13 and 18 euros, due to the drawing materials required. Next came the materials for science and economics students, which were priced between seven and 11 euros. Meanwhile, the items needed by humanities students cost the least, with the shopping basket totalling between just two and four euros.

However, as well as these basic materials, there are other items that are needed for school. Calculators are just one of these, but they were not included in the study due to the huge difference in prices and various models sold in hypermarkets. Different calculators are needed by different students; for example, a scientific calculator, which is necessary for students aged between 12 and 15, costs around 24 euros depending on the model and brand. However, graphic calculators, which are needed by science and economics students, aged between 15 and 18, can cost between 65 and 139 euros.

Dictionaries, despite not featuring on the official list of school materials, are also often needed. A Portuguese dictionary can vary in price from 30 euros (at Jumbo) to 35 euros (Feira Nova).

Big business

For the hypermarkets, this is a period of high income, so it is no wonder that the promotional campaigns for back-to-school goods are very high profile. “This time of  year is extremely important in terms of sales in the stationery department for Grupo Auchan (owners of Jumbo), representing around 40 per cent of the business volume of this section of the store,” explained Sérgio Nunes, product manager for Jumbo and Pão de Açúcar stores. The story is very similar at Continente. “We increase the stock of these types of products by between 30 and 40 per cent,” said João Seara, commercial director for Modelo Continente. “Sales during this period represent between four and five per cent of the annual total for our stores. Aside from Christmas, this is the most important campaign,” he stressed.

However, at Carrefour, the importance of this product segment is less significant representing approximately one per cent of total income, said an official source from the company. However, the sales are significant, representing 50 per cent of the annual sales volume of school materials.

Basket contents, based on required materials for each official learning stage in Portuguese schools

All baskets included the list of basic items, plus extra materials specific to the age group.

Basic items

A4 file




A4 pad

Students six to 10 years

A5 pad

Coloured pencils

Felt tip pens


Set square



Students 10 to 12 years

Coloured pencils

Felt tip pens



Watercolour paints



Art paper

Students 12 to 15 years

The same materials as 10 to 12

years plus

Squared paper

Tracing paper

Students 15 to 18 years

Basic materials plus specialist

equipment for science, economics and

art. Humanities students only require

basic set of items.