The National Retail Federation is predicting that parents will keep the reins tight this back-to-school season, spending an average of $603.63 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, just under the $606.40 predicted last year at this time.
The survey, which included parents of kids in grades K through 12, as well as a group of college-bound shoppers, had a sample size of just over 8,6000, and was conducted by BIGResearch. It also finds that, in a major switch from last year, department stores will be a key destination. Total spending is expected to reach $22.8 billion; when college spending is included, the total is expected to reach $68.8 billion.
For retailers, the BTS season is the second-biggest event after the holidays, and considered a key indicator of how strong, or weak, fourth-quarter sales may be.
The trade association, based in Washington D.C., says those numbers are an indication that while the worst of the recession may be over, parents are still feeling a little insecure. "Families aren't opposed to spending on what they need, but parents want their children to take a good look around at what they already have before deciding what to buy for back to school this year," NRF president/CEO Matthew Shay says in the forecast. "Retailers understand consumers are extremely focused on value and are taking this opportunity to offer substantial savings on merchandise."
Among their tactics this season are buying more store-brands (39.9%), comparison shopping more online (29.8%), and restricting purchases to sales (50%). Additionally, nearly half of survey respondents said the economy is forcing them to simply spend less in general (43.7%).
Tech spending is expected to be up a bit, $189.51, on average, as parents buy computers, cell phones, mp3 players and tablets. But only 51.9% of families plan to make such purchases, down from last year's historically-high 63.7%. And among back-to-college shoppers, the percentage of those planning an electronics buy fell to 45.8%, lowest levels since 2005. The percentage of those planning to purchase apparel, shoes and supplies is down, as well.
Department stores stand to be among the big winners, with 57% planning to shop there, a jump from last year's 53.9% and the most in the survey's eight-year history. But discounters are still the major draw, attracting 68.4% of shoppers. Other major channels include specialty clothing stores (48.7%), office supply chains (38%) and electronics stores (21.7%). Those shopping online is expected to rise from 30.8% to 31.7%.
Back-to-college shoppers are expected to spend $808.71 on everything from apparel and electronics to dorm furnishings and food, down from $835.73 last year.