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CE Retailers Reap Bonanza In Back-To-School Sales

Washington, D.C. — CE retailers were among the biggest beneficiaries of the estimated $25.7 billion spent this year on back-to-college merchandise.

According to the findings of a new National Retail Federation (NRF) study, students — and their parents — spent $7.5 billion on consumer electronics before returning to campus, almost as much as their expenditures for clothing, accessories, furnishings and school supplies combined.

Only textbooks, which generated $8.8 billion in revenue, outsold CE.

The report, the second annual NRF 2004 Back-To-College Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found that freshman in particular may have been the most lucrative target for CE dealers this year. The average freshman, who likely moved away from home for the first time, planned to spend $1,205.97. Of that, the primary outlay, $759.97, was earmarked for consumer electronics.

“By recognizing a historically-neglected market, retailers have found themselves in the middle of a gold mine,” said NRF’s president Tracy Mullin. “When retailers can satisfy the needs of new and potentially lifelong consumers by offering fun, in-demand, exciting merchandise, everybody wins.”

Added Phil Rist, VP/stratetgy at BIGresearch, “Many students planned to use large portions of their graduation money and summer job paychecks to fund their return to campus, and retailers have been quick to notice the opportunities” with dorm-tailored offerings.

Parents and college students spent nearly twice as much on back-to-campus merchandise than the $14.8 billion spent on elementary through high school students, NRF said. Combined, the $40.5 billion spent on all back-to-school merchandise this year should account for more than 4 percent of the total annual sales of all electronics, appliance, furniture, general merchandise, apparel, sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, second only to the holiday season.

A separate report by Chase Card Services on “Millenials” — the generation born after 1978 —cited a 2003 study by Student Monitor showing that fully 13 percent of college students surveyed had visited a CE or computer store within the past week. The Chase Impact Report on Consumer Trends also indicated that college kids spend an average of $42.14 a month on computer and gaming software — more than music, cosmetics, fragrance or non-school related books.

“Millenials consume a high volume of information and entertainment through their use of technology,” the report read, although this could be a double-edged sword for marketers.

“Channel surfing, TiVo systems, Internet pop-up blockers and a general desire to multitask have kept Millenials at arm’s length from marketers who are trying to get their messages through,” Chase observed. “Retailers should consider capitalizing on product placement opportunities and other non-traditional types of advertising, i.e. cell phones, outdoor, as a way of communicating messages to a more captive audience.”