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The survey found that the average family with school-aged children will spend $594.24 on back-to-school purchases, compared to $563.49 last year. Total back-to-school spending for kindergarten through 12th grade this year is estimated to reach $20.1 billion.
While spending in most categories will remain flat over last year, electronics spending will continue to rise as many parents plan to spend some of their tax rebate check on household electronics like computers and cell phones, according to the survey. This year, parents will spend $151.61 on electronics purchases during the back-to-school timeframe, up from $129.24 last year. Spending on clothing ($234.51 vs. $231.80 last year), shoes ($109.75 vs. $108.42) and school supplies ($98.47 vs. $94.02 last year) will see more moderate increases.
"Strong promotions and must-have brands will help retailers stand out in the crowd as shoppers look for the best bang for their buck on back-to-school purchases this year," said Tracy Mullin, president and c.e.o. of the National Retail Federation. "While cost will be the deciding factor, some families will use rebate checks to soften the blow, taking advantage of promotions and deals when they can."
With retailers starting back-to-school promotions earlier, parents are taking the opportunity to search longer for good bargains. This year, more parents (46.4 percent vs. 45.2 percent in 2007) will begin shopping at least three weeks before school starts.
A large majority of consumers will head to discount stores (73.0 percent) for back to school purchases this year, trying to stretch their dollar as far as possible. Others will head to department stores (56.6 percent), clothing stores (47.8 percent), electronic stores (21.4 percent), office supply stores (41.8 percent), and drug stores (18.2 percent).
As comparison shopping becomes more popular among consumers looking for the best deals and gas prices continue to rise, 24.8 percent of back-to-school shoppers will buy online, compared to 21.4 percent last year.
"This year's back-to-school shopper is a bargain hunter at the core," said Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy at BIGresearch. "Though parents want to make sure kids are fully prepared for school, they will be comparing prices online and in stores before making any big purchases."
While results from the back-to-school survey were surprisingly strong, spending on college merchandise will wane this year. Back-to-college spending, which has helped buoy retail sales for the past five years, will drop seven percent this year, from an average of $641.56 per person last year to $599.38 this year. With total back-to-college spending expected to reach $31.26 billion, 2008 back-to-college and back-to-school spending combined will total $51.4 billion.
"College students are learning a hard lesson that when economic times are tough, fun purchases take a back seat," said Mullin. "While students will still be buying school supplies, they will scale back spending on clothing, electronics and dorm furnishings."
Many students are adapting to the current economic environment by living at home, according to the survey, with 54.1 percent of college students commuting to campus from their parents' houses this year, up from 49.7 percent last year.