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For kids' clothes, no one retailer has the lock on back-to-school season this year

For kids’ clothes, no one retailer has the lock on back-to-school season this year

Rachel Szylar, a stay-at-home mom of three kids in New Jersey, has shopped at now-bankrupted Gymboree and Children’s Place before.

But this year, she’s planning to venture to big-box retailers Kohl’s, Target and Walmart to pick up graphic tees, polo tops, dresses and denim for her 10-year-old son, seven- and two-year-old daughters. The summer is wrapping up, and so thoughts are turning from swim parties and sleep-away camps to getting ready for a new school year. Szylar said she also might do a little shopping online.

“It’s hard to bring all the kids to the mall to get stuff,” Szylar said about why she started going to the likes of Kohl’s and Target. “Gymboree was also getting kind of expensive.”

It’s the first back-to-school season since Gymboree filed for bankruptcy in January for a second time, this time shuttering its entire fleet of stores.

Children’s Place is closing dozens of stores but is also trying hard to fill Gymboree‘s void. There’s Carter’s, which also owns OshKosh B’gosh and sells a line of clothes exclusive to Amazon. Gap and Old Navy are two other popular back-to-school destinations. This year, Gap’s portfolio of brands includes Janie Jack, which it bought from Gymboree out of bankruptcy court. The upscale brand, which sells girls dresses for upwards of $69, still operates JanieandJack.com and more than 100 stores.

Beyond that, parents are scanning the aisles in places like Target, Walmart and Kohl’s. Department stores are expected to be the most-frequented stop this back-to-school season, according to a study by the National Retail Federation, with 53% of parents planning to go to places like Macy’s, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney. Forty-five percent of NRF’s 7,660 survey respondents said they plan to go to specific clothing stores.

Spending on back-to-school clothing this year will climb to $240 per family from $237 a year ago, according to the study. But spending on shoes is expected to fall slightly to $136 per family from $139.

Department stores, however, have been struggling to keep merchandise fresh and stores exciting, opening the door for Target and Walmart to sell more children’s clothing. For many parents, Target and Walmart offer less-expensive alternatives to the likes of Macy’s and other department stores, where a Nike-branded hoodie can cost $45 and a pair of jeans could retail for at least $22.50.

“People are looking to shop in the traditional venues a little bit less this year,” Coresight Research analyst Marie Driscoll said. “Still, department stores are the first place they’re going. But there are more alternatives.”

The children’s clothing industry in the U.S. is valued at $33.9 billion, according to Euromonitor. But no one company has the majority of market .

Carter’s ended 2018 with the biggest stake, 9.4%, which also includes sales of its apparel for newborns and infants. Gap had 6.2%, Nike had 4.6%, Children’s Place had 3.2%, and Target ended last year with a 3.2% of the industry, Euromonitor said.