Many retailers host back-to-school promotions for apparel, electronics and more through video game and shopping sites, virtual worlds, social networks and widgets to make kids aware of specific brands. Retailers believe that technology creates one-on-one relationships with young consumers, even as parents struggle to make ends meet.
"More retailers have put together extended programs that target today's youth during the back-to-school season," says Patti Freeman Evans, Research Director and Online Retail Analyst at JupiterResearch. "Differentiated products in apparel and electronics can capture consumers with the fashion-forward model. Those that offer strong value for the money will do really well."
JCPenney, for example, launched an integrated marketing campaign showing teens how they can "get that look" with several clothing brands sold at the retailer's stores. It features the theme of "The Breakfast Club." Sears introduced a similar campaign featuring actress Vanessa Hudgens from the TV movie "High School Musical" playing characters representing various styles they can recreate from clothing sold by Sears.
Retailers like Victoria's Secret and Apple have also built relationships with universities, because college-age consumers are a key demographic. Victoria's Secret partnered with 33 universities to launch Pink's Collegiate Collection, a series of shirts, accessories and sports gear cross-branded with names, colors and mascots from participating universities. As part of Apple's back-to-school promotion, students and faculty of an accredited university receive a free iPod with the purchase of a computer.
Consumers can look for "a good number" of retailers to push discounts, especially in apparel, to move out merchandise this back-to-school season, Freeman Evans says. While retailers that sell goods online have seen better results, this year the average family won't spend as much for apparel, pens, paper, books, computers and other supplies.
In fact, spending per child should drop about $30. The average family with school-age children will shell out about $594.24 on back-to-school purchases, compared with $563.49 in 2007, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). The trade association estimates that total back-to-school spending for kindergarten through grade 12 will reach $20.1 billion this year.
While students will allocate the largest portion of the budget to electronics, NRF says spending will fall to $211.89 per person from $258.43 last year. Spending on clothing--$134.40 vs. $149.85, and dorm furnishings, $90.90 vs. $109.85, respectively--also will drop.
While consumers have not stopped spending, parents have found more creative ways to purchase paper, pencils and computers at a discount. To save in small ways, some say they will repurpose notebooks that had a few pages torn out during the prior school year. One category-- school supplies--will experience an increase, from $63.52 in 2007 to $68.47 this year.