One of America's top shopping traditions is dead

The High Cost of Back to School Shopping

The back-to-school shopping season is a relic of the past.

Weeks of frenzied spending ahead of the school year once helped jump-start the all-important holiday shopping season.

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For investors, it was used to predict how strong spending would be in the critical months to come.

"You would see moms arriving in stores and shopping malls with fistfuls of cash, buying bundles of stuff — stacks of tops, bottoms, and accessories for their kids," says Mark Cohen, the former CEO of Sears Canada. "They were stocking up on everything to take advantage of the promotions and reduced prices."

But those days are long over and "back-to-school shopping has disappeared," according to Cohen, now the director of retail studies at Columbia Business School .

Retailers killed the end-of-summer shopping frenzy with continuous promotions during the rest of the year, he says.

"The industry has gotten into this really Armageddon-like race to the bottom with promotional pricing," Cohen says. "Once upon a time these sales were a once-in-a-year opportunity, and now you can find them every week, year-round."

RELATED: 10 stylish backpacks perfect for back to school

10 stylish backpacks perfect for back to school
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10 stylish backpacks perfect for back to school
This backpack is the perfect compliment to a monochromatic look (or a uniform). The bright colors will make you stand out in the hallways. 
There are few chicer accessories than a quilted, black leather backpack. Consider making this your new favorite accessory to carry with you all fall.
This bag from Kate Spade has it all- a feminine floral element, a dark color palette and a quilted texture to tie it all together.
We love the understated nature of this backpack. The primary colors are a perfect pair, but are given a trendy, minimalistic twist. 
We are obsessed with this sleek and modern take on a traditional backpack. Plus the gold hardware and almond color are a classic combo.
A cult favorite - backpacks from Fjällräven are super durable and water resistant, so you'll be able to handle whatever life throws at you. 
For all boho lovers there, this backpack is for you. Soft colors and an intricate geometric pattern come together to make this dreamy bag.
This is the perfect bag for those that are always on the go. This sturdy bag has padded straps as well as a laptop/tablet slot to keep everything in place when you're on the move.
This backpack is the perfect pairing of edgy and girly. With a neutral pattern covered in bright red roses, this is ideal for those with a style that changes day to day.
While this bag maybe a solid color, it's perforated texture keeps it eye-catching and interesting. Plus, you'll never have to worry about matching your bag to your outfit ever again.

Dozens of retailers including Macy's, Nordstrom, Sears, and J. Crew have reported lackluster sales and traffic this year.

Company executives have repeatedly blamed their performance on the highly promotional retail environment, among other reasons like the weather.

Stores like Staples and Office Depot should fare better than apparel retailers, but even those will experience a dip in back-to-school sales as laptops become more prevalent in classrooms, he says.

"If you walk around Columbia University, you see students carrying laptops, not notebooks," Cohen said. "If I look out at at my classroom virtually none of them are using a notebook."

Cohen says it would be a mistake now for investors to use the back-to-school spending period as any kind of indicator for consumer spending going forward.

"Everyone has their ear to the ground looking for a sign as to what the last half of the year might be like," he says. "But there's no signal, there's no sign."

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