It may be mostly East Valley people trying to escape the blistering weather outside, but Arizona Mills mall has been packed with shoppers for more than a week.
"The heat could be a factor, but we do a great back-to-school season, and this has been a really high-traffic week, higher than (the same time) last year," said Denise Hart, the Tempe mall’s marketing director.
Hart said Arizona Mills merchants are optimistic about a booming back-to-school market.
But national estimates point to a different scenario for the second biggest shopping season of the year — and possibly even more alarming — the bellwether for the annual November-December spending splurge.
The average shopper is expected to spend a surprising 8.2 percent less on back-to-school purchases this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The trade group annually polls consumers on their plans for starting the school year off with new backpacks, computers and the trendiest fashions.
Overall, the total tab for U.S. back-to school spending is expected to be $13.4 billion this year, down 9.4 percent from $14.8 billion last year, the organization said Tuesday.
Consumers surveyed plan to spend less this year on everything except school supplies, pulling back the most on pricey electronics — such educational aids as computers, high-tech calculators, software and accessories.
Best Buy spokesman Kevin Cockett said the company doesn’t forecast the back-toschool season, and he hadn’t heard about the results of the National Retail Federation’s poll, so he wouldn’t comment on the findings.
But Cockett said it is an important selling season for the electronics chain.
"Back-to-school is a popular time for people to look at all their tech needs and upgrade their (personal computer system) software," he said.
The average consumer will spend an estimated $443.77 overall this back-to-school season, according to the national survey. That is the lowest since 2002.
Electronics will take the biggest hit, the polled consumers said. They plan to spend an average $68.08 this year on tech items, down from $101.03 last year.
The retail experts said it’s not a major worry yet. The back-to-college crowd hasn’t been polled, and they spend a lot more on electronics than the kindergarten through 12th-grade crowd, said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
And the big drop in spending could be a blip because consumers already have their tech toys.
"Electronics sales have been strong for years, so its understandable there would be an occasional dip in sales," Davis said. "Many families have already invested in highend electronics."
Davis did say, however, that it could be an indicator that electronics may not do well in the upcoming Christmas season.
Since clothing and shoe budgets only slipped slightly in the back-to-school survey, those retailers shouldn’t worry about the holiday season, Davis said.
"The slip in back-to-school spending is more an indicator of what’s happening with electronics than what is happening with the economy," she said.
Local shoppers definitely don’t seem to be scrimping this school year.
Mary Deffigos of Scottsdale was ticking off items on school-supplied lists for daughter Anastasia, 8, and Nikolas, 6.
Anastasia hopes to bag a Roxy backpack. Nikolas just wants one that rolls.
And there are the giant lists of items that range from tissues to theme books.
But Deffigos plans to buy a lot more than that.
"We buy the teachers what they need and then some. We try to stock up to help out the teachers," she said. Deffigos also stocks up on extra backpacks, lunchboxes and other supplies for her church to distribute.
As for stuff to wear, the Deffigos kids will get new sneakers, she said.
"But we tend to wait until it cools off to buy new clothes," Deffigos said.
Meg Evans, 9, of Scottsdale and her mother Beth haven’t started school shopping yet. But Meg expects her tab to be higher than last year.
"In fifth grade you need a ton more stuff," she said.
But mother and daughter agreed that Meg, like the Deffigos kids, would start school with her summer wardrobe.
It’s typical of Valley families to hold off on a back-toschool wardrobe, said Don Kay of Mesa, who has daughters aged 12 and 14.
"They may buy a few things, but a lot of times, they wait until they get to school to find out what the newest trends are before they buy clothes," Kay said.
At the north Scottsdale Target store, the biggest back-to-school sellers are backpacks, lunchboxes and theme books, said store manager Marco Schneider. The younger kids like characterthemed products, she said. Hot this year are Batman and perennial favorite SpongeBob SquarePants, she said.
Scottsdale children start school a week later than usual this fall, so it’s too early to say how sales will fare, Schneider said, but she’s optimistic it will be a good season.
"We’re very excited about the selection this year," she said.