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Back-to-school windfall seen
NRF survey says parents expected to dish out $14B for kids' accessories this year.
July 22, 2003: 9:00 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Retail sales during the key back-to-school shopping period this year could turn out better than most retailers had expected, partly due to tax credit checks, a report said Tuesday.

According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2003 Back-to-School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, families this year will spend an average of $450.76 on back-to-school merchandise, up from $441.60 last year.

The report said spending by adults could reach as much as $14.1 billion, with teenage consumers adding another $750 million to that total.

"With consumers heading to the stores for everything from scissors to sneakers, retailers are hopeful that the back-to-school season will signal the beginning of an economic recovery," NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement.

"The second-half of 2003 is clearly poised for steady sales growth," Mullin added.

The NRF forecasts a 4.5 percent year-over-year growth during the second-half in GAFS sales, or sales of general merchandise, apparel, furniture, electronics and sporting goods, an improvement from the 2.2 percent growth in the first half of the year.

One factor for the boosted forecast is the $13 billion in tax credit checks that will be sent out over the next few weeks to more than 25 million families, the report said.

Retailers had been hoping that the tax cuts and rebates would lure customers back into stores and help pare the excess inventory that has been plaguing merchants for months.

"The child tax credit could not have come at a better time," Mullin said.

But many industry watchers, citing a struggling economy and a high rate of unemployment, think consumers may instead choose to head straight to the bank instead of the shopping malls with their rebate checks.

"Rebates are wonderful to the extent that they are executed, regardless of the deficit," said Kurt Barnard, retail economist and president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group.

However, "retailers shouldn't break out the champagne yet," Barnard added.

It's little surprise therefore that 78.1 percent of consumers said they plan to shop at discount stores for back-to-school items such as blue jeans, coats and computers, the survey said.

Apparel remains the No. 1 back-to-school purchase, the report said, with consumers each expected to spend $206.24 on clothing, $84.44 on shoes and about $74.04 on school supplies.  Top of page

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