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NRF survey throws wet blanket on seasonal sales


If consumers can be trusted to accurately describe their spending intentions well in advance of when they actually incur expenses then this year’s back-to-school season will be weaker than last year’s. The National Retail Federation’s annual BTS survey got a lot of attention when it was released last week because consumer data compiled by the trade group forecast a decline in spending. According to the 2011 version of the survey conducted by BIGresearch, families with children in grades K through12 will spend an average of $603 on apparel, school supplies and electronics compared with last year’s average of $606, while college shoppers are expected to spend an average of $808, well below last year’s average of $835. Combined spending by K through 12 and college kids is expected to total $68.8 billion.

Whether that proves to be the case is dependent on shoppers following through on the intentions they shared with researchers July 1 to 6 when the survey was conducted among 8,684 shoppers. NRF contends the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1%, but shoppers are poor predictors of their own behavior when it comes to spending. Furthermore, asking folks to weigh in on their spending intentions amid the distractions of the July 4 weekend would seem to skew results downward as well.

Shoppers may spend less this year or about the same but it likely has more to do with the state of the economy and simply a lack of cash or credit than any newfound restraint expressed in a survey. Sticking to a budget and exercising discipline when confronted with the abundance of choices, compelling merchandise and sharp price points in retail environments is hardly the strong suit of the American people.

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