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Back to school spending to increase almost $100 per family

With record temperatures across the nation making headlines, many parents are already preparing their back-to-school shopping lists and thinking ahead to fall.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2006 Back-to-School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, families with school-aged children will be spending more on back-to-school shopping this year than last, with the average family spending $527.08, up from $443.77 in 2005. Total spending is estimated to reach $17.6 billion, up from $13.4 billion last year.

While spending will jump in all categories, electronic and apparel purchases will fuel this year’s back-to-school growth. Total spending on electronics or computer-related equipment, such as home computers, laptops, PDAs, or calculators, is estimated to increase by more than $1.5 billion this year ($3.82 billion versus $2.06 billion), rebounding after a sharp decline in 2005. 

“The back-to-school shopping season serves as an important bellwether for the holiday season by helping retailers pinpoint emerging trends and popular products,” said Tracy Mullin, NRF President and CEO. “Retailers will be tracking the performance of apparel and electronics very closely to ensure that their stores have the right merchandise mix for the fourth quarter.”

Apparel is also expected to be a big performer, with the average consumer expected to spend $228.14 (up from $205.31 in 2005). Other popular items on consumers’ back-to-school lists include shoes ($98.34) and school supplies, such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes ($86.22).

One in five (15.9 percent ) parents with school-aged children have kids that are required to wear a uniform. According to the survey, those parents will spend more on apparel and accessories ($233.73 versus $228.14) and shoes ($119.91 versus $98.34) than parents who do not have to buy uniforms.

In addition, more consumers with children who are required to wear uniforms will shop at department stores (56.8 percent vs. 53.3 percent),specialty shops (36.2 percent versus 30.9 percent ), and through catalogs (7.1 percent versus 5.0 percent ) than those with children that do not wear uniforms.

Once again this year, the survey found shifts in spending by region. Consumers in the West are beefing up their back-to-school budgets ($409.19 last year vs. $479.45 this year), while spending in the South is expected to rise as well ($434.09 in 2005 vs. $544.54 this year). While consumers in the Midwest cut back in 2005 ($404.68), they are expected to bump up spending ($521.10) this year. The only area where consumers are pulling back is in the Northeast, where consumers will be spending an estimated $456.38, down from $513.07 in 2005.

Many parents have already begun checking items off of their shopping lists as they hit the stores early to take advantage of back-to-school promotions. The survey found that one in six parents (16.5 percent) will begin shopping for back-to-school merchandise at least two months before school starts. Close to half (41.9 percent) will begin three weeks to one month before school starts, and one-in-three (32.5 percent ) will wait until 1-2 weeks before school begins.

“As retailers begin to roll-out special promotions and savings, consumers will begin hitting the stores to scoop up essential back-to-school merchandise,” said Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy for BIGresearch. “This year we will see a variety of unique and fun merchandising strategies, encouraging consumers to begin their shopping sooner rather than later.”

According to the survey, discount stores will remain popular back-to-school shopping destinations, with nearly three-quarters (72.2 percent ) of shoppers heading to discounters to purchase items on their lists. Department stores and specialty stores will be seeing increased traffic this year. More than half of consumers will head to major department stores to complete a portion of their back-to-school needs (53.3 percent this year vs. 39.7 percent last year) and close to a third will shop at their favorite specialty shop, such as clothing or electronics store (30.9 percent in 2006 vs. 18.8percent in 2005). Other popular destinations include office supply stores (35.8 percent ), drug stores (16.3 percent ) and online (15.2 percent ).

Children will once again be investing more of their own money in back-to-school items. Parents said that their teenagers would be spending an average of $28.99 of their money, up from $20.47 in 2005, though still down from $38.51 in 2004. Pre-teens will be spending more as well, with the average pre-teen spending $12.72, up from $8.12 last year.


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