It is feet first at Giblings in Oakland where owner Ken Wrisley has been outfitting kids for school for over 30 years

John Verdon/

From giant chains like Bed Bath and Beyond to one-store businesses like Giblings Footwear in Oakland, retailers have learned an important lesson about back-to-school shopping: More than any other sales season, it brings customers who might otherwise shop online into their stores.

If the shoe has to fit or the jeans have to win the approval of a fourth-grade fashionista, parents are more likely make those purchases in person rather than risk having to make multiple returns with online shopping.

“The folks who come to me, their time has value,” said Ken Wrisley, who has owned Giblings Footwear since 1986. “If they can get it right the first time and not have to try three or four times to get it right or mail packages back, that time cost is absorbed.”

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Laura Rumana, a Wayne resident, went to Wrisley’s store for the first time recently after having returned multiple pairs of shoes for her 6-year-old son, Tommy, to online shoe seller Zappos.

Wrisley measured Tommy and put him in a 5W sneaker. “That explains it,” his mom said, as Tommy practiced running and jumping in his new footwear. “I was ordering him 3.5 on Zappos.”

A chance to woo shoppers

The back-to-school shopping season is prime time for retailers to woo back online shoppers or to make a good impression that could lead to repeat customers, said Ken Perkins, president of the research firm Retail Metrics, Inc.

“It’s even more of an opportunity than Christmas,” Perkins said. In back-to-school shopping, “you really do want to get a feel for whether the stuff really fits and works with the kid,” he said.

“It is a big opportunity for retailers to get consumers into the store and provide them with good service,” Perkins said. “Hopefully it leaves a good feeling [that] will generate more visits.”

For neighborhood shoe stores like Giblings, and Ped-Agree in Wyckoff, the back-to-school season is the busiest time of the year. “This is our Christmas,” Wrisley said.

The country’s two leading retail organizations, the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers, are betting that this will be a profitable back-to-school season for many retailers.

The retail federation predicts back-to-school shoppers will spend a total of $83.6 billion this year. And the international council found that 89 percent of parents plan…