Whole Foods

It did not look like back-to-school madness in a lot of retail stores last year.

Sales had fallen 5.1% among retailers, not including the industry giant Wal-Mart, which recently stopped releasing monthly figures. Consumers are cutting back on non-essentials, which means that traditional activities like buying new clothes for back-to-school might be put off for months or even another year, as parents try to get back their financial footing.

Teen retailers saw the hardest hit, especially clothing stores. One reason why goes like this: Because teens have often already “hit their growth spurt,” they don’t always want new clothes because they need them size-wise, but because they want something newer and “cooler.”

This may explain why the uber-fashionable and expensive stores took the hardest hits – Abercrombie & Fitch Co. dropped by 28% – while discounted name-brand merchandise available at TJ Maxx has actually seen an uptick of 2.3%.

Department stores are also having a rough time selling back-to-school clothes, supplies, dorm furniture, and the like. J.C. Penney reported a 12.3% decline and Macy’s dropped 10.7%, while Target, with cheaper alternatives to similar products, still saw a decline of 6.5%.

A correlated problem is that retailers are cutting back on their staff, which means back-to-school teens and college students are having trouble finding work. No work means no discretionary income for that new back-to-school outfit or the little extras like a better laundry basket.

For right now, buyers are making do with what they’ve got.

GM and eBay Team Up to Sell Cars

Let’s be honest. No one really wants to go down to a car dealership and haggle face-to-face with a car dealer anymore. We can get every other product in the world online, so why not cars?

Why not cars indeed. Mostly, the haggling has been what limits car’s availability online. Buyers know they can often get a better price by speaking with the dealer and engaging in some serious negotiation, and they’re not willing to pay sticker price. The idea of buying a vehicle for its given price is laughable, yet that seemed to be the only way to buy a car online – offer a price, put it in your shopping cart, and check out.

With a new joint venture by GM and eBay, buyers can get the convenience of online shopping without losing the benefits of haggling with their dealer. The pilot program, which is currently only available in California, allows shoppers to browse through 20,000 vehicles from the state’s 250 GM dealers, does have the option to allow the consumer to buy the car for sticker price, but it also features a way to bargain with their car dealer – online.

Though used cars have been available for purchase on eBay for years, this is the first program sanctioned to sell new cars from certified dealers. Dealers are motivated to participate because it can give them access to a wider customer base than the ones who simply know the local dealership, and of course customers have a better chance of finding the deal they’re looking for with more competition.

It’s a great new way to buy a car, but the ones who might be getting the best deal are GM and eBay.