July 19, 2010, 5:35 PM

More households will shop online for back-to-school goods this year

30.8% of households say they will shop online this year.

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Mom and Dad will turn to the web more this year for their back-to-school shopping, the National Retail Federation reports. 30.8% of households say they will shop online this year to get kids ready for school compared with 22.2% last year.

The NRF’s 2010 Consumer Intentions and Actions Back to School survey, conducted by BIGresearch, also found 30.3% of parents say they will compare prices online, up from 26.4% who said so in 2009. Additionally 44.3% of parents will buy more store brand or generic products, compared to 41.7% last year.

“Many of today’s shoppers are smarter than any other generation before them, especially when it comes to finding the best price,” says Phil Rist, executive vice president, strategic initiatives, BIGresearch. “The affordability of online shopping gives parents an extra edge over the sometimes expensive back-to-school shopping season with price comparison options, free shipping offers and even coupons.”    

The report forecasts that the average American family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 11% compared to $548.72 last year, and 2% more than $594.24 in the survey in 2008, which was conducted before the banking crisis chilled consumer spending. Total spending on school-aged children in grades K-12 is expected to reach $21.35 billion, the NRF says. And combined K-12 and college spending will reach $55.12 billion, the NRF predicts, making it the second biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays.

“We are encouraged by the fact that parents are eager to start their back to school shopping this year, but the industry still remains cautiously optimistic about recovery,” says Matt Shay, NRF president and CEO. “As the second half of the year gets under way, retailers will gauge their customers’ spending appetites, which often serve as a bellwether for the all-important holiday season.”

The NRF also found:

  • Spending on apparel will make up the majority of consumers’ budgets with the average family of school-aged kids expected to spend $225.47 on jeans, shirts and other types of clothing.
  • Parents are expected to spend an average of $181.60 on their children’s electronic or computer-related school items.
  • Families will spend an average of $102.93 on shoes and $96.39 on school supplies.

Additionally, teens are expected to shell out an average of $31.74 for school items, up slightly from $30.88 last year. Pre-teens will spend an average of $18.27, up from $11.94 in 2009.  When it comes to how much say children have in parents’ buying decisions, 61.1% say their children influence 50% or more of their back-to-school purchases.  

The NRF also looked specifically at plans for college student spending. 18.2% of those shopping for college student goods will shop online more often than they did in 2009; 34.1% of families report they will buy more store brand or generic products, up from 32.5%  last year; and 19.3% will share or borrow textbooks instead of buying new ones. 20.6% said their back to college plans will not change.

The average college student’s family will spend $616.13 on new apparel, furniture for dorms or apartments, school supplies and electronics. Students and their families spent only $618.12 on those items last year. Total spending on back to college merchandise is expected to reach $33.77 billion.

College students and their families will spend the most on electronics, though not nearly as much as last year. The average family will shell out $236.94 electronics, down from the $266.08 last year when spending on electronics reached an all-time high. Other spending includes shoes ($62.20), collegiate-branded gear or supplies ($36.26) and school supplies ($62.91).

The 2010 Back to School and Back to College Consumer Intentions and Actions Surveys polled 9,009 consumers from June 30 to July 7.

Another report from the International Council of Shopping Centers which looks at chain store sales, predicts sales for the back-to-school shopping season, which it classifies as sales from July through September at family clothing, shoes, electronics, and books retailers, will grow 5.4% over last year. Sales at these stores during the season last year fell 2.8%, the council reports.

"Based on arithmetic alone, the expected July jump in back-to-school spending could be extremely strong," says Michael P. Niemira, chief economist and director of research for ICSC. "Layer on some fundamental improvement in the consumer economy, including some pickup in the pace of earnings growth, and we should see a strong 7.6% rise for July, continued strength in August with a 5.7% increase, and a moderate 3.0% rise in September for back-to-school spending.

Family clothing is likely to show the most growth with a 6.5% increase and electronics will post a 5.0% gain, the council says.

More analysis from Retail Forward’s ShopperScape’s poll found 23% of the 4,000 households it polled are planning back-to-school shopping trips, lower than the 30% that planned such shopping trips at the same time last year. 21% of those planning to shop for school say they will spend more than last year, 19% will spend less and 53% will spend about the same.

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