Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Consumers learning frugal back-to-school lesson

August 11, 2009

JAPAN/Could Americans really be getting the hang of life without excess? According to two recent consumer studies, they just might be.

NPD Group Inc, a market research firm, said on Tuesday that it found consumers are starting their back-to-school shopping later, spending less, and shifting away from discretionary items like shoes, clothes, and beauty items. Instead, they are focusing on necessities like school supplies and calculators.

“Back-to-school will be a big indicator of the consumer’s psyche with regard to overall spending this year compared to last year,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst. “Consumers are clearly putting need over desire. They are more highly influenced by value than by fashionable or trendy products.”

According to NPD’s survey, the number of people who said they either ‘haven’t started’ or ‘don’t plan to shop for back to school’ by the end of July dropped 5 percent from last year .

About 44 percent of respondents said they planned to spend less for back to school, compared to 35 percent last year. The study also found that the percent of back-to-school dollars people plan to spend on footwear and apparel fell 9 points to 39 percent and 8 points to 52 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile BrandKeys, a marketing consulting firm, surveyed 10,000 households across the United States in July and found that the plans for back-to-school spending were down 10 percent this year. Spending fell across all categories, except for clothing.

“Clothing is unchanged because children grow,” said Robert Passikoff, president of BrandKeys. Even though spending fell in categories like computers, school supplies and study aids, Passikoff said kids will be going back to school pretty well kitted out in the classroom.

“Even in this economy, it’s still true that any investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” he said.


(Reuters photo)


I saved quite a bit this year by looking for many of the basics (like backpacks and clothing) on the web. Most online retailers mark down their already low prices pretty dramatically on this stuff. To cut down on costs this year, I made a list of the back-to-school items I needed for my family and am using a free shopping service called to let me know when any of them go on sale.

Posted by Julie | Report as abusive

In our home, we consider shoes and clothing to be “necessities,” not “discretionary” items.

Posted by jo star | Report as abusive

With a kid in college and another in high school we buy in bulk and look for sales. Besides school basics we buy toiletries and dorm supplies for the kid in college for the whole year now. Lucky for us my mother-in-law buys all the kids clothes, (that’s what grandmas do).

Posted by Dad in Westchester | Report as abusive

I must agree you can save a lot by buying online, especially when it comes to books and computers.


Clothing is a necessity in our household too but the $40 abercrombie tee has been replaced with the 3-for-$10 tees at the local discount store. Add in $20 for 4 tubes of fabric paint and the kids make their own fashions.

Posted by jimmy | Report as abusive

But shoes and clothing don’t have to be new each season. No matter how much your teenage girl whines, if her jeans from last year still fit, there is no reason why she HAS to have new jeans for this year.

Posted by Zetal | Report as abusive

haha okay, one “survey group” at the top said people are spending less on clothes, citing a frugal consumer base, while another “survey group” said spending on clothes won’t change, because children grow. maybe it’s both! paradoxes are cool

Posted by antonyus | Report as abusive

I am 31 years old and I still wear some clothes form my teens so I think my kids can still wear any clothes that still fit from last year. I love my kids so I will try to give them the things they want as well as those they need. I just try to get those things at discount prices like my son wants a new cell phone so I bought him a Motorola W376 from Tracfone with DMFL, Blue tooth, FM Radio, web access and camera plus built in games all for less than $30 so he gets what he wants and I can still afford all the other stuff.

Posted by KellyDean | Report as abusive

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