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CE Spending Plans Mixed For Back-To-School, Polls Show

8/11/2013 08:00:00 PM Eastern

WASHINGTON — A spate of back-to-school shopping surveys are painting a mixed picture for CE sales for students.

As the first major shopping period of the calendar year, backto- school business is monitored closely by retailers, manufacturers and analysts as a barometer for the all-important holiday season ahead.

But according to a poll by the National Retail Federation (NRF), about 55.7 percent of grade school families plan to purchase CE products for the new school year, down from 59.6 percent in 2012, and their projected average expenditures are down 8.7 percent to $199, compared with $218 last year.

For the college crowd, 51.8 percent plan to buy CE for school, down from 54 percent in 2012, and expected CE purchases will slip 6 percent, to $203, from $216 last year.

The NRF attributed the planned spending decline to record expenditures last year and the impact of higher payroll taxes. “Parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season,” said NRF president/CEO Matthew Shay. “It’s important to note, however, that spending levels are still well above where they were a few years ago.”

All told, parents and students plan to spend about 13 percent less on all back-to-school items, including apparel and school supplies, than they did last summer, the trade group said.

But a separate poll, by market research firm ShopperTrak, suggests that renewed confidence among back-to-school shoppers should help drive August retail sales up 4.3 percent year over year. The expected increases reflect positive consumer sentiment and steady U.S. economic gains, which may also encourage shoppers to browse a broader range of retailers beyond discount stores, the researchers said.

The findings are backed by another poll, conducted by online comparison shopping site PriceGrabber, which showed that 68 percent of consumers plan to spend up to $500 this backto- school shopping season compared with 63 percent in 2012 and 48 percent in 2011. Additionally, 17 percent of respondents plan to spend between $500 and $1,000, the survey showed.

“The outlook for the back-to-school shopping season remains positive,” concurred Rojeh Avanesian, PriceGrabber marketing and sales senior VP. “Shoppers are more inclined to spend than they were in the last couple of back-to-school seasons. However, instead of spending on the newest gadgets, shoppers are looking for ways to get the most for their money by looking for deals as well as reusing already owned items before purchasing new ones.”

According to the survey results, fully half of consumers plan to start their back-to-school shopping this month. Top inducements include free shipping (cited by 72 percent), sales (71 percent), coupons (69 percent), online promotions (43 percent), rebates (41 percent), and free-with-purchase items (38 percent).

In addition, 13 percent said they plan to shop via mobile phone, up from 6 percent last year; 16 percent will use a tablet, up from 8 percent last year; 58 percent will buy from brickand- mortar stores; and 69 percent will buy online.

In the CE category, computers topped back-to-school shopping lists, with 17 percent of respondents selecting laptop computers, and 11 percent citing a planned tablet purchase. Computer accessories received 10 percent of the vote, cellphones received 9 percent, and only 5 percent cited a desktop computer.

Still another back-to-school survey, by mobile shopping app and deal-finder website BuyVia, showed that one-third of consumers plan to purchase a tablet, 20 percent will buy a laptop, 20 percent will purchase both a tablet and laptop, and another third don’t have any plans to buy a new device for school this year.

Among the tablet buyers, the majority (39 percent) said they plan to purchase an iPad, 23 percent will buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab, 17 percent are getting the iPad Mini, 17 percent will buy the Kindle Fire and 5 percent plan to purchase another model.

Among laptop buyers, 81 percent will be purchasing a PC and 19 percent a Mac.

Retailers wasted no time this summer mounting their backto- school promotions, with some arriving even before students’ final grades. Among the efforts: a $10 Back To School Savings Pass from Staples that provides a season-long 15 percent discount on school supplies, plus myriad deals on laptops, peripherals and tablets.

More elaborate is Newegg.com’s six-part, three-month-long “Back-to-School: Gear to Rule” campaign, running now through Sept. 16, which features discounts on and giveaways of schoolrelated technology products. Each phase of the promotion focuses on a different category or theme, such as “Roadtrip Roundups” for mobile devices, and students will also have the opportunity to win back-to-school essentials with Newegg’s “Stay in ‘Touch’” sweepstakes. Sponsored by Intel and Microsoft, the giveaway will feature more than $60,000 in winnings, including two 2013 Ford Focus ST grand prizes and a host of tablets and Ultrabooks from Acer, Asus, Sony and Toshiba.

Walmart said CE is a key area of focus for its online arm this year, as back-to-college spending rises and more and more technology is integrated into the classroom. To that end, Walmart.com offered a host of online-only exclusives with free shipping, including a Toshiba laptop with Intel processor for $298; a Dell touchscreen laptop with Intel processor and bonus $50 gift card for $498; and a Google Nexus 7-inch tablet with 32GB of memory for $248.

More recently, Best Buy ran a three-day back-to-school blitz through Aug. 3 that featured $200 off all 13-inch MacBook Pro laptops, plus an additional $100 off when students register their .edu email addresses; a guaranteed $200 trade-in value for iPad 2 and third-generation iPad; $100 off select Toshiba laptops; and $70 off a Frigidaire 4.4-cubic-foot compact refrigerator.

Meanwhile, in cyberspace, Experian Marketing Services reported that Walmart.com was the most frequented e-tail site for back-to-school shopping for the week ending Aug. 5, followed by Target.com, JCPenney.com, Macys.com, Amazon.com, OfficeMax.com and Sears.com. Back-to-school searches were up 65 percent that week over the prior week, with significant growth for searches that included the terms “cheap,” “sale” or “coupons,” Experian said.