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Back-to-college buying rises

Students spend an average of $957, up 8.6% from 2006

August 16, 2007

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buying 101: Books to Furnishings

College students and their families plan to spend more preparing for school this semester, according to a survey of 7,710 consumers conducted Aug. 1-7 on behalf of the National Retail Federation.

Average spending amounts by category, and changes from a year earlier:

  • Furnishings: $110, up 19 percent
  • Textbooks: $315, up 12 percent
  • Clothing, shoes, accessories: $210, up 8 percent
  • School supplies: $64, up 5 percent
  • Electronics, such as computers and phones: $258, up 2 percent

For Andrea Smith, seeing legions of college-bound students trek into SuperTarget with their parents in tow has become something of an inevitable rite of the season.

That they're poised to spend money just happens to keep her plenty busy.

"They come in with a list of what they're going to need, and their parents buy them what they need," said Smith, who oversees sales of soft goods, including back-to-school items, at SuperTarget, 3201 Iowa. "We don't see them overindulging, but they can be persuasive with their parents: 'I want this,' or 'I want that.'

"They definitely get the necessities."

Spending on such necessities - from textbooks to towels, and laptop computers to fashionable furnishings - will be expected to ring up back-to-college sales of $47.3 billion nationwide this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

The trade group said that families and their college-bound students would spend an average of $957 getting ready to head back to campus, up 8.6 percent from the $881 average a year earlier.

Driving the increase: Spending on furnishings for dorm rooms or apartments, up 19 percent from a year ago as students scramble to make the most of their time away from home.

Freshmen - armed with gift cards and cash from high-school graduation gifts - are leading the way among their soon-to-be peers on campus, at least when it comes to buying. The survey found that freshmen plan to spend an average of $1,194 getting ready, compared with a low of $748 for sophomores.

"For today's students, spending on college-related merchandise is as much of a necessity as wearing a business suit for a job interview," said Phil Rist, vice president for strategy at BIGresearch, which conducted the survey for the federation. "With other consumers worrying about the stock market and interest rates, retailers are smart to focus on a group that needs to buy because of a life-stage event."

Lawrence's SuperTarget opened up space in its seasonal area for back-to-school items, pushing aside garden tools and patio furniture to make way for beanbag chairs, matching lamps, computer cables and other items coveted by college students.

While Targets nationwide are focusing on such sales, the Lawrence store has stocked a larger and wider assortment of dishes, area rugs, backpacks, shower caddies, body pillows, bucket chairs or other items than their corporate colleagues.

"We do live in a college town," she said.

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