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.

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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