NRF’s 2011 Back-to-College survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found more college shoppers this year will make adjustments to their budgets because of the economy. According to the survey, parents and students will spend an average of $808.71 on everything from apparel and electronics to dorm furnishings and food items, down from $835.73 in 2010.

Four out of five (83.7%) respondents say the economy will impact their spending plans. More shoppers than last year will purchase store brand or generic products (38.0% vs. 34.1% in 2010), and more will comparison shop online (30.7% vs. 23.2% in 2010). Additionally, many shoppers are making do with last year’s items (29.7%) and spending less overall (44.6%) – trends also evident in NRF’s 2011 Back-to-School survey.

“College students and their parents, who are likely also spending thousands of dollars on tuition, will be looking for ways to stretch their budgets and find good deals this year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “To compensate, retailers will spread out their promotions to capture the attention of shoppers whenever they’re in the mood to spend, and will use every resource they can to prominently promote everything from bedding to mini refrigerators and, of course, laptops and smartphones.”

The survey found 45.8% of students and their parents will buy electronics, the lowest level since 2005. However, electronics will still take up the largest portion of shoppers’ budgets with the average person expected to shell out $209.93, an 11% decrease over last year’s $236.94. Freshman will spend the most on electronics ($281.94 on average).

“Young adults are often the first in line to buy the latest tablet device, smartphone or mp3 player, so many college students are already armed with the latest gadgets they’ll bring with them to campus,” said Pam Goodfellow, Consumer Insights Director, BIGresearch. “A decline in electronics spending could also be due to the fact that many popular college items, like laptops, have experienced huge drops in price over the last several years.”

Shoppers will also spend on clothing and accessories ($127.37), dorm furnishings ($96.84), food items ($94.60), school supplies ($61.48) and personal care items ($64.44). For those late-night study sessions, mom and dad may even put some meals “on them” and send their child to school with gift cards in hand, with the average person expected to spend $60.46 on gift cards or pre-paid cards.

Department stores won’t only be popular with K-12th graders this year: college students will be sure to hit up their favorite store as well. Nearly half (47.6%) of families with college-aged children will shop at a department store, up from 42.5% in 2010. Others will shop at discount stores (53.9%), drug stores (19.4%), home furnishing or home decor stores (11.2%), office supply stores (33.4%), clothing stores (34.2%) and electronics stores (19.6%). Online retailers will see a nice boost in traffic this year – one-third (33.4%) of respondents plan to shop online, up from 28.6 percent last year.

This year’s survey found that one-quarter (24.4%) of college shoppers will begin their shopping at least two months before school starts, the highest percent since NRF began conducting the survey in 2003. Others will head out three weeks to one month before school starts (28.9%), one to two weeks before (27.9%), the week school starts (9.4%) or after school starts (9.4%).

Like last year, most say their child will live at home (52.9% vs. 51.8% in 2010), though one-quarter (24.7%) will live off campus at a house or apartment. Eighteen percent will live in a dorm room or college housing and 3.6% will live in a fraternity or sorority house.

[Source:  “2011 Back-to-College Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey,” BIGresearch/National Retail Federation (NRF).  21 July 2011.  Web.  25 July 2011.]