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Back-To-School Spending Just ‘Meh’

New York – If back-to-school (BTS) is a bellwether of holiday sales, as many believe, the yuletide may not be all that gay this year.

According to an 8,500-household poll by Brand Keys, a brand loyalty research consultancy here, planned BTS spending will be essentially flat to 2014 this season.

The firm’s 21st annual survey shows that households with pre-school through 12th-grade kids plan to spend an average of $650 on BTS supplies, vs. $652 last year.

Of that expenditure, clothing takes the lion’s share at $270, although CE, including computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices, was the second-greatest outlay, at $160.

Shoes ($120), supplies ($80) and books/study aids ($22) made up the difference.

“While consumer confidence indices have been moving in a positive direction this year, it appears that parents are taking a hard look at what their children really need for back-to-school,” observed Brand Keys founder/president Robert Passikoff.

He also attributed modest CE sales to year-round purchasing, as “Parents aren’t upgrading a mobile device just because classes are starting.”

As to where shoppers are shopping, 99 percent of BTS respondents said they prefer discount stores, flat to last year, and 95 percent also like to shop online, up 2 percent from 2014.

Another 55 percent of respondents cited specialty retailers, up a whopping 21 percent from last year, and 35 percent said they shop office supply stores, up 5 percent.

The top-ranked retailers included Target (No. 1), Walmart (No. 2), Best Buy (No. 5), Staples (No. 7), Sears (No. 9) and Apple Stores (No. 10).

Online favorites included (No. 1), (No. 2), (No. 3), (No. 9) and (No. 10).

As to when shoppers are shopping, fully half said they’ve already completed their BTS purchases (prior to Aug. 1), up 15 percent from last year. Another 30 percent are awaiting “summer sales,” while the remaining 20 percent are holding off for last-minute bargains.

The survey, conducted July 20-26, essentially jibes with an earlier National Retail Federation poll suggesting sluggish BTS sales this season.

The takeaway, Passikoff said, is that value is about more than just pricing. “It’s about brand, brand differentiation, and brand engagement. Retail brands that can emotionally engage consumers are seen as surrogates for added-value, and those will be the brands that benefit most.

“Consumers not only believe that, they behave that way in the marketplace,” he said.