Retailers Brace for Slower Back-to-School Season

Spending Expected to Decline by 13%, Even as Consumers Begin Shopping Earlier

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Retailers hoping for another record-breaking back-to-school season will be sorely disappointed, with the National Retail Federation predicting spending will decline by 13%.

Promotions started this year even before July 4
Promotions started this year even before July 4

The industry group announced today that families with school-aged children will spend an average of $635, down from $689 last year. Families with kids in college will spend an average of $837, down from $907 a year ago. Total back-to-school and back-to-college spending will fall to $72.5 billion from $83.8 billion. Last year a combination of pent-up demand and a growing population of school-aged children goosed sales, the NRF said

"The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind. Having splurged on their growing children's needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season," said Matthew Shay, NRF president-CEO, in a statement.

Mr. Shay went on to say that parents are cutting corners where they can, though he pointed out spending is still above levels seen between 2008 and 2011.

Apparel and accessories will capture the biggest portion of budgets for back-to-school shoppers, accounting for just over one-half of total expenditures. School supplies will account for 14% of budgets, while electronics will account for a little less than one-third.

For the college set, most categories will see spending declines, with the exception of dorm and apartment furnishings and food items. Electronics spending accounts for one-quarter of back-to-college budgets, making it the largest expenditure.

Marketers have been rolling out promotions even earlier than usual, in an effort to capture as big a portion of shoppers' budgets as possible. And at least some consumers are responding. According to BigInsight, which conducted the survey, more shoppers than ever are hitting stores early. Nearly one-quarter of families say they will begin shopping at least two months before school starts, up from 22% a year ago. Half plan to begin shopping three to four weeks before school starts.

"We continue to see a shift in shopping patterns during big spending 'events,' where consumers typically head out early to take advantage of fresh inventory options and initial markdowns, then see a lull, only to rev back up again when final sales appear," said Pam Goodfellow, BigInsight's director-consumer insights, in a statement.

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