Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 27, 2012

Back-to-school spending grows as parents restock, replenish

By James Limbach
ConsumerAffairs.com

WASHINGTON — With more children entering elementary and middle school this fall and after cutting back their spending last year, parents with growing kids will hit the stores to replace and replenish what their children might have had to “make-do” with last school season.

According to National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2012 Back-to-School spending survey conducted by BIGinsight, the average person with children in grades K-12 will spend $688.62 on their kids, compared with $603.63 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $30.3 billion.

Combined K-12 and college spending will reach $83.8 billion, serving as the second biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays.

“When it comes to their children, there’s nothing more important to a parent than making sure their children have everything they need, even in a tough economy—and especially when it comes to back-to-school shopping,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Backpacks rip, pencils break, and children grow, there’s no way around it, but as they begin tackling their shopping lists, parents will make sure to spend smarter than they ever have before. We fully expect retailers to be aggressive with their promotions both in-store and online, keeping an eye on inventory levels as families look to spread out their shopping throughout the entire summer.”

How it's spent

Not surprising, parents will spend the most on clothing, accessories and electronics. Realistic about the cost of select items and the necessities needed for the school year, parents estimate they will spend an average of $246.10 on clothes and $217.88 on electronics. Nearly six in 10 (59.6%) will invest in some sort of electronic device, a sharp increase from the 51.9 percent who planned to do so last year.

Additionally, the average person with children in grades K-12 will spend $129.20 on shoes and $95.44 on school supplies such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks.

Economy a factor

After several years of uncertainty it seems the economy is still affecting how people shop. From shopping for sales more often to contemplating their children’s athletic and academic activities, this year 84.8 percent of consumers with school-aged children say the economy will affect their spending plans in some way.

Specifically, more people plan to shop for sales more often (51.1% vs. 50.0% last year) and cut back on their children’s extracurricular activities (11.0% vs. 10.2% last year.)

Savvy shoppers looking to save some money will shop online more often (17.9% vs. 15.3% last year) and comparison shop online (32.1% vs. 29.8% last year.)

Internet playing big role

If there’s one thing the economy has changed it’s the way people shop. This year more families say they will shop at department stores and online for school items as they look to get the best bang for their buck. Nearly six in 10 (59.9%) will take advantage of department stores’ private label offerings and exclusive product lines, up from 57.0 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s 10-year history.

Parents will also scour the Internet for free-shipping and other promotions. Nearly four in 10 (39.6%) will take their school shopping lists online, up from 31.7 percent last year and nearly doubling since 2007 when 21.4 percent planned to shop online.

Discount stores will be the most popular shopping destination, however, with 67.1 percent planning to shop there for school items. Clothing stores (52.0%), office supplies stores (42.0%), drug stores (22.7%) and thrift stores (14.4%) will also see their share of back-to-school shoppers. Electronic stores, popular with families looking to invest in smartphones, tablets and MP3 players for their children, will see a nice bump in traffic this year (26.3% vs. 21.7% last year.)

“The budget-conscious consumer has not forgotten about price, quality or value, we’re merely seeing a more savvy shopper,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “There’s no questions consumers have become more practical in their shopping, and with school purchases oftentimes considered a necessity, parents have likely been saving and scrimping to be able to fully afford all of their children’s needs for the upcoming school year.”

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.