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Back-To-School CE Spending Expected To Rise 13%

Washington — Demand for consumer electronics helped prop up June retail sales, and now a new survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts the category will buoy the back-to-school season as well.

According to the trade group’s 2007 Consumer Intentions and Actions Back-To-School poll, conducted by BIGresearch, CE will see the biggest category increase in sales this year, with families spending 13 percent more on consumer electronics than in 2006 ($129.24 on average vs. $114.38).

“Electronics have evolved from luxuries to necessities, not only for college students but also for their younger siblings,” said NRF president/CEO Tracy Mullin. “While some students may be pleading with mom and dad for an iPod or a cellphone, parents are also investing in desktop or laptop computers, educational software and printers to support their children’s learning.”

Where will parents be making their back-to-school purchases? Discounters will remain the most popular destination although fewer consumers plan to hit mass merchants this year, with 67.6 percent of parents planning to shop at discount stores compared with 72.2 percent last year. All other channels are expected to see traffic increase, including department stores (54.9 percent vs. 53.3 percent), office supplies stores (41.4 percent vs. 35.8 percent last year), specialty stores (31.6 percent vs. 30.9 percent) and drug stores (17.9 percent vs. 16.3 percent).

However, the channel expected to see the biggest back-to-school increase is e-tail. The percentage of parents who said they plan to purchase merchandise online rose 40.8 percent, from 15.2 percent in 2006 to 21.4 percent this year. Young parents between the ages of 18 to 34 are the most likely to shop online for children’s merchandise, with nearly one-third planning to use the Web to find back-to-school items.

All told, families with school-age children are expected to spend an average of $563.49 on back-to-school merchandise, up 6.9 percent from last year’s $527.08 average. Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $18.4 billion, and though the majority of shoppers will be purchasing clothing and accessories this year (95.4 percent), spending in that category is expected to be flat.

The timing of back-to-school shopping is expected to be consistent with previous years. The majority of consumers (45.2 percent) plan to begin their shopping three weeks to one month before school starts. Thirty-two percent will begin one to two weeks before school; 14.6 percent will begin at least two months before the start of class; and 5.4 percent will wait until the week before school begins. Only 2.7 percent will procrastinate until after school starts to do their shopping.

The survey of 8,290 consumers was conducted from July 3-10.