Ailbhe Griffin (7) tries on her uniform in Arnotts

RETAILERS across Ireland are feeling the pinch as parents forgo the traditional back-to-school rush in favour of bargain-hunting and securing online deals.

Arnotts marketing manager Tanya Meighan says that back-to-school sales are almost 50% less than at this stage last year.

"Although we have opened a new dedicated schoolwear store with a huge amount of stock, sales are down on this time last year. Where people would have bought three uniforms per child before, they are now only buying one and saying they might come back later in the term if the need arises.

"July and August are usually very busy but it has been very quiet so far. It is only in the last short while that we have seen shoppers come in to buy uniforms. They seem to be leaving it to the last minute in the hope of getting either last-minute bargains," said Meighan.

Peter Timlin, who owns a drapery shop specialising in schoolwear in Ballina, Co Mayo, believes families are buying less and handing down uniforms from child to child in an effort to cut down on spending.

"We are marginally down on sales in comparison to last year, and we've dropped our prices. Parents are more conscious now and are handing down uniforms, but we are keeping our head above water by offering good deals to customers who are more discerning than ever before."

Meanwhile, the second- hand school-book trade is soaring as families abandon new books in favour of exchanges.

Tim Hurley, who founded trading website, said his website has seen a 100% increase in website traffic in comparison to the same period last summer.

The website now trades up to 1,000 books a day. "When I first set up the website, people didn't really pay too much attention. This was a few years ago when they would have no problems going and paying any given amount for the books. Now, however, the penny seems to have dropped that there are savings of up to 80% to be made from trading on the site," said Hurley.

Over 13,000 families are now using the service, representing a huge loss of customers to retail outlets. Peter Minchin of chain store Byrne's says sales started off well at the beginning of the summer but have now fallen below normal levels. "We have slashed our prices on everything from stationary upwards. It is a lot quieter than normal," he said.