According to NRF’s 2011 Back-to-School survey conducted by BIGresearch, families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $603.63 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, within a few dollars of last year’s $606.40 average. Total spending on grades K-12 is expected to reach $22.8 billion.

“Families aren’t opposed to spending on what they need, but parents want their children to take a good look around at what they already have before deciding what to buy for back to school this year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers understand consumers are extremely focused on value and are taking this opportunity to offer substantial savings on merchandise.”

RECESSION WORRIES LINGER

Although the worst of the recession is over, a shadow of insecurity still remains when it comes to how the economy will impact consumers’ back-to-school plans. According to the survey, Americans are compensating for the economy by purchasing more store-brand or generic items (39.9%), comparison shopping more online (29.8%), and shopping for sales (50.0%). Additionally, nearly half of survey respondents said the economy is forcing them to simply spend less in general (43.7%).

“The consumer is holding on, but it is an indication that consumers remain cautious about their spending,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc.

Having replenished many of their children’s needs last year, average spending on clothing ($220.60) and school supplies ($88.99) will slightly decrease this year. Families will also spend an average of $104.53 on shoes, a slight increase over last year.

“While the differences in the numbers aren’t all that dramatic there are dramatic indications of changes in consumption patterns,” stated Cohen, “The study’s results clearly point out that consumers will be shopping later, looking for value, and searching out lower priced options.”

CE PURCHASES TO EXPERIENCE UPTICK

Though average spending on computers, cell phones, mp3 players and tablet devices is expected to increase slightly to $189.51, just over half (51.9%) of families with school-aged children plan to purchase electronics this year, down from last year’s historically-high 63.7 percent. The percent of people who plan to purchase apparel, shoes and supplies will decrease as well, demonstrating that many families are making conscious decisions to buy only what they need.

DEPARTMENT STORES GAIN POPULARITY

Having done their own homework on what today’s families want, department stores are expected to see a surge in back-to-school traffic thanks to popular private labels, promotions and innovative social media campaigns. According to the survey, 57.0 percent of back-to-school shoppers will head to a department store, up from 53.9 percent last year and the most in the survey’s eight-year history. Though the majority of back-to-school shoppers plan to make at least one purchase from a discount store (68.4%), clothing stores (48.7%), office supply stores (38.0%) and electronics stores (21.7%) will also be popular. Additionally, more people this year will shop online (31.7% vs. 30.8% last year) and in drug stores (21.1% vs. 19.5% last year).

SHOPPERS TO DELAY START OF BTS SHOPPING

Though many retailers began filling their shelves with merchandise right after the Fourth of July, more parents this year will start their shopping closer to the beginning of school. While most families will begin shopping three weeks to one month before school starts (42.4%), nearly one-third (31.2%) will begin their shopping one to two weeks before school starts – up from one-quarter (24.8%) last year. Some will get a jump start and begin shopping two months before the new school year (21.8%) and the remainder will shop the week school starts (2.0%) or after school starts (2.6%).

TEENS SHELL OUT OWN MONEY, INFLUENCE PURCHASES

The survey found that teenagers will spend about the same amount as last year for certain apparel, supplies and accessories. Teenagers are expected to shell out an average of $31.64 for school items, compared to $31.74 last year. Pre-teens, largely reliant on their parents for an allowance, will spend less this year ($15.12 vs. $18.27 in 2010). When it comes to how much say children have in parents’ buying decisions, nearly two-thirds of parents (61.2%) say their children influence 50% or more of back-to-school purchases.

[Source:  “2011 Back-to-School survey.”  BIGresearch/National Retail Federation (NRF).  21 July 2011.  Web.  22 July 2011;  Back-to-school spending intentions report conducted by The NPD Group.  18 July 2011.  Web.  20 July 2011.]