NEW YORK – Trendy dorm furnishings and stylish cell phones should spur U.S. college students and their parents to spend nearly 9 percent more on back-to-school items this year, according to a survey released this week.
Students and their parents will spend a combined average of $956.93 this year, up from $880.52 last year, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation designed to gauge consumer behavior and back-to-college shopping trends.
"Because the college years are an important time for young adults to express their individuality, retailers will pull out all the stops to catch students' attention," said NRF Chief Executive Tracy Mullin in a statement. "Colored laptops, stylish cell phones and distinctive dorm furniture will appeal to today's students and should be big sellers in retail stores across the country."
The U.S. back-to-school season, which begins in July, is the biggest shopping time of the year after the year-end holiday season. But this year retailers are worried that higher food prices may crimp consumers' spending.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), for example, has cut prices on more than 16,000 store items, begun a new advertising campaign, and looked for unique ways to reach college students, such as launching a group on social-networking Web site Facebook, which has millions of college-aged members.
Based on figures that extrapolate the total U.S. population over the age of 18, the National Retail Federation, a trade group, forecast that families will spend a total of about $5.43 billion on dorm furnishings this year, up 42 percent from last year, helped by trendy in-store promotions and youth-focused merchandise.
Students and their families will spend about $12.8 billion on electronics, up about 22 percent from a year ago, NRF forecast, likely fueled by sales of laptops, digital cameras and cell phones such as Apple's iPhone.
But the lion's share of the total of $47.3 billion of back-to-college dollars will be spent on textbooks, NRF said, forecasting that consumers will spend $15.6 billion on textbooks this year, up from $11.7 billion a year ago.
Other large areas of spending will be on clothes, accessories and shoes, NRF said.
While college students going to dorms or apartments may spend a lot preparing for life away from home, the picture of students of all ages is less rosy, according to data from research firm NPD Group.
NPD Group, which released the results of its 2007 back-to-school survey on Monday, said 76 percent of respondents said they planned to spend $500 or less on back-to-school items, down 5 percent from last year.
"Consumers have a budget in mind and go shopping with the intention of spending those dollars," said Marshal Cohen, an analyst at NPD.
"This year, in the absence of 'absolute necessity' or a 'must-have' item, the consumer will look for alternative purchases. I think the primary beneficiaries of that will be apparel and footwear."
School supplies, such as pencils, calculators and notebooks, were at the top of consumers' shopping lists, NPD said, followed by clothes, shoes and electronics.