U.S. back-to-school spending seen dropping-survey

Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:01am EDT

* 34.4 percent of parents plan to spend less this year

* 50.9 pct trying to get kids to wear last year's clothes

By Brad Dorfman

CHICAGO, July 21 (Reuters) - U.S. consumers will spend 8.5 percent to 12 percent less this year on back-to-school items than they did last year, as cash-strapped parents try to get children to wear last year's fashions, a retail industry monitor said on Tuesday.

A total of 34.4 percent of parents surveyed earlier this month said they planned to spend less this year compared to last year, according to a survey by America's Research Group and financial firm UBS. Parents continue to be concerned about job security, higher debt and dwindling income.

The survey led America's Research Group founder and CEO Britt Beemer to forecast the decline in back-to-school sales, which follows a 5 percent decline in 2008.

"Back-to-school spending will be a minor blip on the radar screen for retailers this year," Beemer said in a news release.

The back-to-school season is typically one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year and is seen as a precursor for spending during the key Christmas holiday season.

In a survey done for Reuters by America's Research, and released last week, almost two-thirds of consumers said they were not willing to spend more now than they were three months ago. [ID:nN14268467]

In the results released Tuesday, 41.8 percent of consumers cited having less money as a reason for cutting back, while 40.5 percent cited higher debt and 8.2 percent cited fear of losing their jobs.

This year 33.4 percent of parents expect to spend over $400. Last year the figure was 47.0 percent.

Almost nobody - 1.8 percent of those surveyed - was willing to pay full price this season.

Not surprisingly, more people said they will shop this year at Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), which has been winning new customers in the recession. Of the 1,000 consumers surveyed, 22.3 percent said they would shop at the discount chain, up from 15.4 percent last year.

As for other retailers, 10.5 percent said they would shop at Target Corp (TGT.N), up from 7.6 percent in 2008; 9.6 percent said they would shop at Sears (SHLD.O), up from 6.4 percent last year, and 7.9 percent said they would shop at American Eagle Outfitters Inc (AEO.N), up from 6.4 percent in 2008.

How many pants, sweaters, dresses and such will consumers be buying? If parents have their way, not many.

Just over half of parents are trying to get their children to wear what they wore last year.

The survey was conducted July 6-10 and has an error factor of plus or minus 3.8 percent. (Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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