The nation's consumers plan to shop late and spend the same amount for the back-to-school season as they did last year, according to a consumer survey conducted by the NPD Group Inc., a market research firm.

Still, the good news is that while mass merchants are poised to be the top destination for spending, department stores, which have been undergoing consolidation, and footwear retailers are gaining some ground, NPD reported Monday.

"Department stores and shoe stores have been taking hits from mass merchants for years, when it comes to back-to-school shopping," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD, in a statement. "So, it's got to be gratifying for them to see an increase in the number of consumers planning to go back-to-school shopping" in their stores.

According to a recent survey of about 40,000 consumers, 47 percent of consumers said they expect to spend under $250 per child this year, 28 percent plan to spend between $251 and $500 and seven percent anticipate spending more than $1,000.

Twenty-one percent of consumers plan to spend less than they did in 2005 compared to 26 percent. Thirty-four percent said they expect to spend more this year compared with 33 percent in 2005 and 43 percent say they'll spend about the same amount compared with 41 percent in last year's survey.

Stores will have plenty of procrastinators. The study said that in 2005, 43 percent of shoppers had already begun back-to-school shopping by Aug. 1 and 51 percent shopped between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1. By comparison, just 40 percent of consumers plan to shop that early in 2006, while 56 percent anticipate shopping between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1 — a gain of 5 percentage points, year over year.

Meanwhile, 81 percent of consumers said they plan to shop at mass merchants. But 27 percent of consumers said they expect to shop at department stores, a 3 percentage point increase over the previous year. Twenty-nine percent of consumers planned to shop for shoes at footwear retailers, compared with 27 percent last year.