Although kindergarten to high school students are expected to scrimp this year on school-supply spending, the back-to-college set will more than make up the difference, industry experts say.
College-bound U.S. consumers and their parents polled by the National Retail Federation, said they would spend a combined $34.4 billion to get ready for the fall semester, nearly 34 percent more than last year.
The K-12 shoppers plan to spend an estimated $13.4 billion, down more than 8 percent from what they spent in fall 2004.
The college students said they’ll spend the most on textbooks, nearly $12 billion, and splurge on $8.2 billion worth of electronics, a category that the K-12 crowd cut back on this year.
"For K-12, the electronics market is saturated," said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. "Many families already have home computers. But college students need new computers. And their needs go way beyond computers to digital cameras, cell phones and MP3 players. College students will use technology to keep in touch with friends and family back home."
Radio Shack, which specializes in smaller consumer electronics, has been seeing bigger sales of cell phones, digital imaging products from cameras to photo printers, and MP3 players, said Charles Hodges, company spokesman. He attributes the increases to looming school starts, especially for the college crowd.
"Wireless is huge now," Hodges said. "People are buying new plans or adding their kids to an existing plan."
Parents can pre-purchase minutes of cell phone time loaded onto rechargeable cards, and that’s a particularly popular option for collegegoers, he said.
Sales of calculators, and "electronic references" such as spell-checkers also spike this time of year, he said.
College freshmen get the most tech goodies, Davis said. The average U.S. college first-timer will spend $1151.68, nearly half — $540.35 — on electronics, according to the retail group’s poll.
Electronics giant Best Buy conducted its own survey of college freshmen and reported that more than half of the soon-to-be-students said they would bring at least eight pieces of technology — from TVs to cell phones to computers — to their dorms or apartments.
Standard & Poor’s Equity Research also projected back-to-school spending, with combined K-12 and college students buying a whopping $10.3 billion of new electronics to start the school year. The collegebound portion of the electronics buying will be 9 percent higher than last year, according to S & P analysts.
And while Standard & Poor’s projections are less lofty than those of the National Retail Federation — a combined $40 billion for K-college, compared with a $47.8 billion estimate from the retail trade organization — both agree the back-to-school season is the second biggest retail trigger of the year.
Typically, retailers monitor whether consumers are in a spending mood in fall to determine whether they will be scrimping or splurging from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
"Historically, spending for back-to-school is a closely watched indicator of consumers’ willingness and ability to spend, and has been a good indicator of what consumers will look to spend during the holiday season," Marie Driscoll, head of the retail group at Standard & Poor’s Equity Research Services, said in a statement.
"Overall, despite our neutral stance, we see some winners in the electronics, apparel and footwear categories as retailers kick off fall 2005."
But Davis said this backto-school season may be less of a bellwether than in past years.
That’s because the economy is improving but K-12 shoppers still are spending less because they already have all the pricey electronics they need, she said.
"Usually back-to-school is a good indicator of what consumers want to buy — what items could be big sellers for the holidays," Davis said. "This year they might get an idea of what products are hot, but it’s not giving them an idea of holiday sales (sentiments)."