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Bigger back-to-school shopping sprees expected

After two years of weak spending, retail groups predict that families will shell out more for new clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics.

July 16, 2010|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times

Back-to-school spending is expected to be robust this year as parents replenish their kids' wardrobes and backpacks after two years of weak demand for school gear.

Families are tired of cutting back and sending their children to school in last year's styles, according to reports released Thursday by two major retail organizations.

The National Retail Federation said the average U.S. family with students in kindergarten through high school will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics, a 10.5% rise from $548.72 last year.

Estimates released by the International Council of Shopping Centers were more modest, with the group forecasting a 5.4% rise.

Back-to-school season typically gets underway in mid-July and continues for two months. The season is considered one of the most important shopping periods of the year because it's a time when people are forced to spend and often serves as a bellwether for the winter holidays, retail experts said.

Consumers often view back-to-school shopping as essential rather than discretionary, and this year the "wherewithal to spend is improving," said Michael Niemira, chief economist of the shopping center group.

"The economic fundamentals are better — maybe they're not strong, but they're better," he said. "At some point, how long can you wear hand-me-down clothes?"

But retailers say they still expect a challenging season and, as a result, are ramping up promotions to woo consumers.

J.C. Penney Co. is "being much more aggressive" with its back-to-school marketing efforts, recognizing that parents are still financially strapped, Chief Marketing Officer Mike Boylson said.

"When you look at the advertising this year, it's very understandable and compelling prices but without compromising the style," he said. "Teens get the fact that their parents are having to make some sacrifices."

Back-to-school spending among college students is expected to be about the same as last year. The average college student's family would spend $616.13 on new apparel, furniture for dorms or apartments, school supplies and electronics, the retail federation estimated. That's slightly down from $618.12 last year.

"The industry still remains cautiously optimistic about recovery," said Matt Shay, president of the National Retail Federation. "Some families may not have the luxury of providing extra spending cash for their child throughout the year, so preparing ahead of time will at least guarantee their child has the essentials."

Combined, kindergarten through college spending is estimated to reach $55.1 billion, according to the retail federation. Its estimates were based on a survey of 9,009 consumers conducted June 30 to July 7.

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