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Back-To-School Spending Bodes Well For CE

NEW YORK – CE dealers that did their back-to-school homework should be at the head of the class this week.

According to The NPD Group, Aug. 18-24 is the peak period for back-toschool purchases, as schools start their fall semesters during the last week of the month on average (see chart).

This year the stakes are especially high: Total back-to-school and back-to-college spending is expected to hit $75 billion this season, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported, so merchants that stocked their shelves and staged effective multimedia promotions can expect to earn high grades and comp sales.

The news is even better for CE dealers: According to the NRF, spending on electronics is expected to outpace all other back-to-school and back-to-college categories, including apparel, shoes, school supplies, dorm furniture, food, personal care items and gift cards this year.

Specifically, a pair of consumer surveys conducted last month for the industry trade group indicated that back-to-school shoppers are spending an average $212.35 on CE products this season, up 7 percent from last year, with total outlays reaching $8.4 billion.

Spending is even greater for high school students and their families, who said they will fork up an average $229.88 on electronic devices.

But the college crowd is where CE spending really soars. The polls show that college students and their parents plan to spend an average of $243.79 on laptops, desktop computers, netbooks, tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices this summer – up 20 percent over last year and representing the highest back-to-college CE spend since 2009.

Topping all grades are graduate students, who plan to spend an average $275.24 on electronics.

And what precisely are they buying? A separate back-to-school study, by online promo-finder Brad’s Deals, showed that tablets are still ruling the roost, with 29 percent of the site’s users planning to purchase an iPad, Android tablet or Amazon Fire device this season (see chart, lower left). Laptops came in second, with 26 percent of sales, while smartphones placed a distant third, cited by only 6 percent of respondents, as consumers ostensibly await the rollout of iPhone 6.

All told, 34 percent of respondents said they plan to purchase CE products, which is more than textbooks (31 percent) and school supplies (26 percent). What’s more, 47 percent said they’re buying CE because they want to vs. 34 percent who said they’re required to.

Perhaps more important, fully 50 percent of Brad’s Deals users said they plan to purchase a laptop case or backpack – two accessories that often carry richer margins than CE hardware.

Apparel was the biggest draw, with 74 percent planning to purchase clothing for the fall semester.

As for where all this CE buying is taking place, the NRF said 27.5 percent of the grade-school crowd planned to shop CE specialty stores, up from 25.9 percent last year, a survey high, while 38.2 percent will shop online; 42 percent will shop at office-supply stores; and 64.4 percent will visit discount stores.

Moreover, 36.7 percent of smartphone owners are using them to research products, up from 34.7 percent last year and the highest since NRF started asking in 2011, and more than one in five (21.8 percent) will make a purchase from their smartphone, up from 18.2 percent last year, another survey high. And while many will shop directly through their smartphone, one-quarter will use their devices to find information about a physical store.

Tablets owners are also using their devices more to shop this summer: 31.4 percent will purchase school items from their tablet, up from 29.9 percent last year, and 45 percent will use it research products, up from 41.8 percent last year.

The NRF surveys also found that kids have huge sway over spending decisions. Nearly one out of 10 of parents (9.7 percent) admitted their child influences 100 percent of what they buy for back to school, up from 7.6 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s history.

“It’s safe to say this generation takes back-to-school shopping much more serious than their older brothers and sisters did, with many kids today influencing almost everything their parents buy for the upcoming school year,” said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director for Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted the surveys for NRF. “Students will make sure to keep one eye on social media and the other on retailers’ websites as they seek out what’s new and exciting in their hunt for fresh, fashionable and relevant back-to-school gear.”

Among the college contingent, most (50.5 percent) will shop at discount stores, up from 48.3 percent last year, and more than two in five (44.6 percent) will check out retailers’ websites for special promotions, up from 37.1 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s history. Others will shop at college bookstores (41.9 percent), office-supply stores (36.3 percent) and small/local businesses (13.2 percent).

When it comes to mobile usage, nearly six in 10 (57.8 percent) will use their smartphone in some fashion as they shop for college items. Of those with smartphones, the survey found one-third (33.8 percent) will research products, the highest since NRF added mobile-shopping questions to its survey in 2011. Additionally, one in five (22.4 percent) will purchase items, up from 19.1 percent last year and another survey high, and 29.8 percent will look up retailer information, up from 20.9 percent last year.

Among tablet owners, more than half (54.5 percent) will use their device to shop for college items, with 37.4 percent doing research and 27 percent making purchases on their tablets.