Back to school shoppers planning to spend less this year

Retailers, hoping to boost sales, started bringing out back-to-school merchandise in June, just as the last school bells were ringing before summer vacation. The back-to-school shopping season usually lasts from mid-July until September, but this year 52 percent of consumers had already begun shopping for the coming school year by mid-July, up from 33 percent in 2007, according to a report from Citigroup Global Markets Inc., the Chicago Tribune reports. Shoppers responding to surveys by accounting and consulting firm Deloitte LLP and other retail groups say they plan to curtail their spending overall and will look for bargains this year. Most surveys predict a decline in back-to-college spending.

The Deloitte study shows 71 percent of parents expecting to spend less on back-to-school shopping this year than they did in 2007. Other surveys predict that back to school totals will increase slightly for the kindergarten to grade 12 groups or be flat for the year.

Nearly nine in 10 people surveyed by Deloitte said they will shop at discount and bargain stores. They plan to look for sale items, purchase only what they need, and will use coupons. Higher gas and food prices were cited as the most common reasons for spending less this year.

The National Retail Federation's 2008 Back to School survey predicts that spending in most categories will be flat, but families with school-aged children will spend 5 percent more on back-to-school items, $594.24 per family, compared with $563.49 last year. The slight spending increase will be driven by consumer electronic purchases and economic stimulus payments, CNNMoney.com says.

America's Research Group predicts that back-to-school spending this year will fall as much as 2 percent.

A study conducted by International Council of Shopping Centers found that 90 percent of households will shop for everything at discount stores. That's up 16 percentage points over last year, foxbusiness.com reports. The Deloitte survey results indicate that 19 percent plan to shop for back-to-school items online or from catalogs.

The shifts in consumer spending patterns for back-to-school items may not be limited to one shopping season, foxbusiness.com reports. "There's some element of this that is permanent," said Stacy Janiak, Deloitte's U.S. retail leader. "We don't know how big of an element that is yet but I don't think our gas prices and food prices are going to go back to where they were."

Estimates of the expected percentage decline in back-to-college spending vary. The National Retail Federation's survey predicts that spending in this category will drop 7 percent from $641.56 per person in 2007 to $599.38 this year, according to CNNMoney. BIGresearch predicts that college students will spend 12 percent less this year, foxbusiness.com says.

One reason for the drop in spending by college students may be that this has been the worst summer employment season for teenagers in more than 30 years, according to Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group. "Over the years summer jobs have provided about 19 percent of the dollars teenagers and college students spend of their own money on back-to-school apparel," Beemer said. "That's a huge shift out there that can't be replaced," foxbusinessnews.com says.

But a new school year still means new clothes and other hot items as well as necessities like backpacks and pencils. Linda Kowalske, assistant manager of the Baraboo, Wisconsin Wal-Mart Supercenter, thinks her store will be successful this year. "People are already buying items children need, especially electronics," she said. "Computer makers are putting different types out there now to make buying a laptop cost effective."

Terry Sutton of J. C. Penney in Baraboo thinks that girls will still want their Hannah Montana clothes. "We have the fashion here that people will want," he said, according to wiscnews.com.

Chains are marketing to young shoppers and teens through the media. Kmart is sponsoring the new reality show, "High School Musical," on the Disney Channel. Various scenes will be in Kmart stores and Kmart products will be featured. "We are delighted to be working with ABC Television and "High School Musical: Get in the Picture" to showcase Kmart as a modern, hip, fun brand," said Andrew Stein, interim Chief Marketing Officer, Kmart.

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