Back-To-School Spending: Apparel Sales Will Be Flat

Wipe the sweat off your brow: It's time to think about tweed, heavy sweaters and boots, with the National Retail Federation predicting that back-to-school spending will hit $18.4 billion this season. "Families with school-age children are expected to spend $563.49 on back-to-school merchandise, up 6.9% from last year's $527.08 average," the trade group says.

The bad news, though, is that spending on clothing and accessories--the biggest part of the families' back-to-school budget--is expected to be flat, with consumers spending an average of $231.80, compared with last year's $228.14. (The NRF, which polled more than 8,200 families, says clothing and accessories will account for $7.6 billion in sales.)

Parents planning on holding the line on clothing expenses could translate into big-ticket heartaches for struggling retailers, which have been counting on a strong back-to-school selling season to get profits back on track.

J.C. Penney, for example, is already slashing its online prices, touting price cuts of 20 to 50% on its back-to-school clothes, before the serious shopping has even begun. (The NRF says 45.2% of consumers plan to start shopping three weeks to one month before school starts, 32% begin one to two weeks before, and 5.4% wait until the week before school begins. Only 14.6% shop up to two months before the big day.)

And Gap Inc.'s Old Navy, which has been hammered by its competition recently, is hyping its brightly colored denim jeans (in crimson red, yellow, cobalt blue and purple) as well as the season's alternative to the skinny jean: the Wide-Leg Denim Trouser.

Nor is there great news for the discount stores. While the NRF survey says discounters remain the most popular destination for back-to-school shopping, fewer consumers plan to shop there--just 67.6% of parents, down from 72.2% last year.

All other categories--office supplies stores, drugstores, department stores and specialty stores--are likely to see an increase in traffic. About 21.4% of families will make at least one back-to-school purchase online.

Of course, parents aren't pulling all the freight. The NRF survey found that pre-teens are expected to chip in approximately $15.38 of their own money for back-to-school items, while teenagers will spend, on average, $31.19 of their own cash.

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