August 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

As the economy and gas prices weigh heavy, school shoppers go online

60% of parents are decreasing what they spend, and 10% are turning to online shopping to save on expenses, a new survey says. Ultimately, online sales for the season will be up, one consultant says.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

The majority of parents and students are cutting back on their back-to-school spending this year, a new survey says. 60% of parents and 62% of students report they are decreasing what they spend on shopping for the upcoming school year, according to online research firm Zoomerang. 10% of parents surveyed this month say they are turning to online shopping to save on expenses.

When asked how the state of the U.S. economy has impacted their lives, 25% of respondents say it has impacted their lives a lot, while only 4% said not at all. Further, more than 20% say they are spending less on back-to-school items specifically because of gas prices. Among parents who say they are cutting back this year, 92% say rising gas prices are affecting their back-to-school plans.

Many industry experts agree that the rising cost of gas is negatively impacting back-to-school shopping. However, some feel the number of shoppers turning to the e-commerce channel is higher than Zoomerang’s reported 10%.

“The rising cost of gas is sending more back-to-school shoppers online so they can let their fingers do the walking instead of having to drive halfway across town,” says Thomas Harpointner, CEO of AIS Media Inc., a consulting and technology firm that specializes in e-mail marketing, web site design and web hosting. “And many e-retailers are offering free shipping after spending ‘X’ number of dollars. Free shipping reigns as king online. Add to that special offers, discounts and coupons online, and we will see a bit of an increase in spending online this season.”

Harpointner says there is much activity among his retailer clients this back-to-school season, especially in the realm of e-mail marketing. Retailer clients of AIS Media are sending approximately 40% more marketing e-mails this month compared with last August, the prime month for back-to-school marketing.

“And retailers increasingly are discovering that e-mail and search marketing don’t just drive consumers to online stores, they also can drive shoppers to physical stores,” he adds. “This is especially true this month for back-to-school items like clothing that parents are a little reluctant to buy online because they want to see how things fit on their growing children.”

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