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Survey: Back-to-school sales may soar 16%

Washington ( July 15, 2010 ) According to the National Retail Federation's 2010 Consumer Intentions and Actions Back to School survey, released on Thursday, the average American family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics, compared with $548.72 last year, and close to the $594.24 in 2008.

Total back-to-school spending on children in grades K-12 is expected to reach $21.35 billion. Adding in college back-to-school spending pushes the number up to $55.12 billion, making it the second biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays, according to NRF.

"We are encouraged by the fact that parents are eager to start their back to school shopping this year, but the industry still remains cautiously optimistic about recovery," said NRF president and CEO Matt Shay. "As the second half of the year gets under way, retailers will gauge their customers' spending appetites, which often serve as a bellwether for the all-important holiday season."

The 2010 survey found that 44.3% of Americans will buy more store brand or generic products, compared with 41.7% last year. More parents will comparative shop online (30.3% vs. 26.4% in 2009).

Apparel spending will dominate family budgets. The survey found that the average family of school-aged kids is expected to spend $225.47 on jeans, shirts and other types of clothing. Electronics spending is expected to average $181.60, and families are expected to spend an average of $102.93 on shoes and $96.39 on school supplies.

Seven-in-10 (71.2%) will head to a discount store and more than half (53.9%) will visit their favorite department store to do their back-to-school shopping. Clothing stores will be the destination of choice for 49% of shoppers, electronics stores will pull 23% of shoppers, office supply stores 41.2%, drug stores 19.5% and thrift stores 17%.

More people will shop online this year (30.8% vs. 22.2% last year).

"Many of today's shoppers are smarter than any other generation before them, especially when it comes to finding the best price," said Phil Rist, EVP strategic initiatives, BIGresearch, which conducted the survey. "The affordability of online shopping gives parents an extra edge over the sometimes expensive back-to-school shopping season with price comparison options, free shipping offers and even coupons."

Teenagers are expected to spend an average of $31.74 for school items, up slightly from $30.88 last year. Pre-teens will spend an average of $18.27, up from $11.94 in 2009.  When it comes to how much say children have in parents' buying decisions, 6-in-10 adults (61.1%) say their children influence 50% or more of their back-to-school purchases.

Nearly half (47.6%) will begin their shopping three weeks to one month before school starts and one-quarter (24.8%) will start one to two weeks before school begins. Some will get a jump start and begin shopping two months before the new school year (21.6%). Three percent will wait until the week school starts or even after school begins.