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Back-to-school sales forecast to fall


Average spending per school age child is expected to decline this year from 2012 levels, according to the National Retail Federation, setting the stage for heightened competition in an already intensely competitive seasonal selling period.

NRF said spending per child in grades K-12 would decline to $634 in 2013 compared to $688 last year and spending per college student would decline to $836 from $907. The trade group forecast total K-12 spending of $26.7 billion and total back-to-college spending of $45.8 billion for a combined market size of $72.5 billion.

The forecast is a meaningful pullback from 2012 when sale benefitted from the combination of pent-up demand unleashed by improved economic conditions and growth in the population of school age children, according to NRF. The spending forecast is based on a survey of 5,635 consumers conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics between July 1 and July 8.

The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind. Having splurged on their growing children’s needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season,” said NRF president and CEO Matt Shay. “As they continue to grapple with the impact of increased payroll taxes, Americans will look to cut corners where they can, but will buy what their kids need. It’s important to note, however, that spending levels are still well above where they were a few years ago.”

As for spending in the back-to-college market, Shay noted similar phenomenon with 2013 spending down from last year, but well ahead of levels seen during the recession.

“The back-to-college market continues to grow, with specialty, discount, department, office supply and even drug stores luring students and their parent with attractive deals on everything from microwavable food products to personal care items and of course, home furnishings,” Shay said. “In such a competitive space, we expect the deals over the next few weeks to really turn some heads.”

For the K-12 set, one noticeable trend is the continued shift toward shopping earlier in the season with 23.9% of survey respondents indicating they were already shopping for back-to-school products at the time the survey was conducted compared to 22.3% last year. In the back-to-college market, 29.8% were already shopping at the time the survey was conducted compared to 29% last year. Those are fairly significant shifts considering there is typically minimal variance from year to year regarding behaviors relating to where, when and what type of merchandise is purchased.

“We continue to see a shift in shopping patterns during big spending ‘events’, where consumers typically head out early to take advantage of fresh inventory options and initial markdowns, then see a lull only to rev back up again when final sales appear,” said Pam Goodfellow, director of Prosper Consumer Insights. “Hoping to spread out their budgets but still reap the benefits of getting the products their children want, parent this back-to-school season will comparison shop online and around town at their child’s favorite stores, potentially even more than once, as they seek to find bargains and products that offer the best value.”

As in prior years, the majority of the $634 average expenditure of parents of kids in K-12 will be allocated to apparel ($230), followed by electronics ($199), shoes ($114) and school supplies ($90).

In the back-to-college market, where needs are more broad-based, apparel takes a back seat to electronics with spending on the latter category accounting for $203 of the average expenditure of $836 compared to $122 for apparel. Other top spending categories include food ($104) dorm and apartment furnishings ($104), shoes ($65), gift cards ($65), personal care items ($65), school supplies ($62) and collegiate gear ($42).

For more details on the survey, visit NRF’s Retail Insight Center.

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