2013 back to school

What’s the outlook for fall 2013 back-to-school shopping? It’s expected to decline from last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2013 Back-to-School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. Families with school-age children will spend an average $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, down from $688.62 last year.

Still, that’s not small potatoes. Total spending on back-to-school is expected to reach $26.7 billion—and when you throw in back-to-college spending, the total will hit $72.5 billion.

According to the NRF, Americans splurged on back-to-school last year, driven by pent-up demand. This year, consumers are still spending, but more focused on costs and practicality. “It’s important to note, however, that spending levels are still well above where they were a few years ago,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

Here’s what back-to-school shoppers will shell out for:

New apparel and accessories: 95.3 percent of those with school-age children will spend an average of $230.85 on fall sweaters, denim and other attire. Additionally, families will spend on shoes ($114.39) and school supplies ($90.49).

Electronics: Fewer families with children in grades K-12 will purchase electronics (55.7 percent), and those that are going to invest in a new tablet or smartphone plan to spend slightly less than last year ($199.05 vs. $217.88 in 2012).

Eight in 10 school shoppers (80.5 percent) say economic conditions will affect their spending in some way. In order to save money, 36.6 percent say they will do more comparison shopping online and 18.5 percent will shop online more often.

On the hunt for bargains, families are already shopping for school items: 23.9 percent of families with children in grades K-12 say they will begin shopping at least two months before school (i.e. right now), up from 22.3 percent last year and the highest percentage seen in the survey’s 11-year history. Half (49 percent) will shop three weeks to one month before school, 21.8 percent will shop one to two weeks before school, 2.8 percent will shop the week school starts, and 2.6 percent will shop after the start of the season.

The survey predicts a continuing trend from last year: Shoppers will head out early to get the pick of the merchandise, then hunkering down until right before school has started (or even right after), when they make last-minute shopping trips to snatch up final sale items.