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NRF Back-To-College survey finds spending up

Washington  - While the economy is still top of mind for back-to-college shoppers, a recent study by the National Retail Federation found college students and their families plan to spend about 12% more this year than they did in 2011.

The NRF 2012 Back-to-College Survey, which was conducted by consumer research firm BigInsight and polled of 8,509 consumers from July 2 to 9, found college students and their families will spend an average $907.22 "on everything from dorm furniture and collegiate gear to school supplies and personal care items," up from $808.71 a year ago.

Total spending for back-to-college is expected to reach $53.5 billion. And combined, K-12 and college spending will reach $83.8 billion, representing the second biggest annual consumer spending event for retailers next to the winter holidays.

According to the survey, eight in 10 (83.5%) back-to-college shoppers said the economy is impacting their spending plans - a trend also evident in NRF's 2012 Back-to-School Survey.

To compensate, NRF noted more people will do comparative shopping online this year (34.6% versus 30.7% in 2011). They will also purchase more online (20.5% vs. 18.8% last year.)." Additionally, more parents will also ask their children to make-do with last year's items (31.2% vs. 29.7% last year).

"With fewer ‘needs' than a typical grade-school student, college students and their families are much more likely to look for ways to cut corners this summer as much of their costs come in the form of tuition and living arrangements," said Matthew Shay, NRF president and ceo.

Catalogs, online, and home furnishings stores will be key destinations. The survey found 15.1% of shoppers said they plan to use catalogs to buy their college items, up from 11.4% last year and just 8.3% the year prior. Nearly one-quarter (24.9%) of the average 25 to 34 year old will use catalogs to purchase school items.

Home furnishing stores should see a jump in traffic this year as 16.4% of back-to-college shoppers will head to a home furnishings or home décor store, up from 11.2% last year. College students and their families will also head to discount stores (51.9%), department stores (45.4%), drug stores (22.3%), office supplies stores (40.3%), clothing stores (34.8%), electronics stores (21.1%) and thrift stores (15.0%).

For dorm furnishings, shoppers are expected to spend $100.27. Other items on the list include food ($100.18), personal care ($81.76), school supplies ($75.73) and collegiate branded gear ($52.87).

"Mom and dad are also sending their child to school armed with gift cards," NRF added. The survey found 37.9% of college shoppers are expected to spend an average of $71.23 on gift cards or pre-paid cards, the most since 2009 when this category first appeared in the survey.

College students and their families, like parents with children in grades K-12, will begin shopping earlier this year. Nearly one-third (31.9%) are planning to start school shopping three weeks to one month before school starts, up from 28.9% last year. Nearly three in 10 (29.0%) said they will begin shopping at least two months before school starts, up from 24.4% who said so last year. And 9.2% will start shopping after school starts.

Finally, the survey showed fewer people said their college-aged children will live at home this year (42.9% versus 52.9% last year), and more said their child will live in a dorm room or college housing (25.9% versus 18.1% last year).

Overall, college freshmen and their parents are expected to spend the most this year, spending an average of $929.35. Graduate students, preparing for life on their own or a career, will spend $879.89, followed by sophomores ($812.97), juniors ($767.41) and seniors ($680.70).

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