Back-to-School Shopping Season Focuses on Necessities

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Early August is when most families begin and end their shopping for back-to-school items like pencils, shoes, and other gear. This year about 90% of U.S. families plan to spend at least as much as they spent in 2012 on back-to-school items. Average spending is expected to reach $428 this year.

The data comes from the Deloitte LLC’s annual “Back-to-School” survey published today. Frugality seems still to be the watchword though.

Some 57% of those with children in grades K-12 plan to buy only necessities, up from 52% last year. Families planning to use items them purchases last year rose from 20% last year to 35% this year. The primary reason for spending more is that things cost more, and 68% of parents said they would delay spending for themselves in order to pay for back-to-school items.

When asked to say where they plan to shop for back-to-school items, 90% of those surveyed indicated they would be going to discount department stores. This would seem to indicate that clothing stores like Ross Stores Inc. (NASDAQ: ROST), with more than 1,100 stores, and The TJX Companies Inc. (NYSE: TJX), with nearly 2,000 T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores, could be likely destinations.

The largest jump in retail destinations came in online sales outlets, where 36% of families said they would be shopping this year, compared with just 20% last year. The Internet is now the third most prominent destination for back-to-school shopping, trailing only discount stores and office supply/technology stores, like Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY), with more than 1,000 U.S. stores, and Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS), with more than 2,200 U.S. stores..

As a source of information about what to purchase, online sites now lead all sources, with 55% of parents saying that they will use websites and blogs to get information about items to buy. That’s up from 33% a year ago. Children still get more than half their information about what to buy from their friends.

Mobile shopping is also gaining more traction this year: 24% of respondents expect to make a back-to-school purchase from a smartphone. And nearly 80% will use smartphones to help make purchase decisions, with 66% getting pricing information with their smartphones.

Back-to-school shoppers expect to watch their spending closely again this year. Deloitte’s vice chairman summed it up nicely:

Retailers will not only have to make offers very attractive this season, but they will have to score an ‘A+’ on unique, exclusive merchandise and services that nobody else can offer.