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Total spending in U.S. expected to reach $17.6 billion.

Electronics top back-to-school supply lists around the state

As electronics become necessities on back-to-school lists for K-12 and college students, families will spend more than ever shopping this year.

According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2006 Back-to-School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, the average family will spend $527.08, up from $443.77 in 2005.

Total spending is predicted to reach $17.6 billion, up from $13.4 billion last year. Total spending on electronics or computer-related equipment-home computers, laptops, PDAs and high-tech calculators-is estimated to increase by more than $1.5 billion this year — $3.82 billion versus $2 billion — rebounding after last year’s sharp decline.

Retail bellweather

“The back-to-school shopping season serves as an important bellwether for the holiday season by helping retailers pinpoint emerging trends and popular products,” said Tracy Mullin, CEO of NRF, the world’s largest retail trade association. “Retailers will be tracking their performance of … electronics very closely to ensure that their stores have the right merchandise mix for the fourth quarter.”

The spending trend is welcome news for electronics retailers, especially in the South, where consumer spending is on the rise.

“Sales of TI-83 or -84 graphing calculators, our hottest sellers, easily go up over 100%,” said Doug Jones, assistant manager of Office Depot in Hattiesburg. “It’s our biggest back-to-school electronic item.”

‘Portability is really the key’

Jimmy Schwartz, general manager of Comp USA in Jackson, said it’s no longer college students primarily buying laptops. Parents of high school students are snapping them up “because portability is really the key right now.”
“They want to have something they can take with them wherever they go,” he said. “For middle school and elementary school students, we’re selling family computers with slimline towers and LCD screens that save space. Flash drives are extremely important to move data back and forth. We also sell a lot of iPods, especially to high school and college students, because the iPod not only has music but it also works as a portable flash drive so they can store pictures and data.”

Some students prefer the pen-sized hand scanner, which can scan up to 500 pages and be beamed directly to a handheld device or to a PC, said Schwartz.

Microsoft Office remains Comp USA’s best-selling software, particularly the student-teacher edition, which includes Excel, Word and PowerPoint programs. “Microsoft XP Pro is very popular because it lets students get into a network in school,” said Schwartz. “Also for security, there are a couple of products, one with parental control that monitors emails and Internet searches and alerts parents by text message or email when key words pop up. Also, we have Computrace LoJack for Laptops. If the laptop is stolen, once the thief goes on the Internet, the location can be tracked by satellite, guaranteeing recovery within a month or they get their money back.”

For teenagers going off to college, parents are buying digital cameras and televisions. “Digital cameras have gotten so small, they’re about the size of credit cards, and kids really love that,” he said.

Hot selling

Cayce Wilkinson, store director of Circuit City in Hattiesburg, said the increasing number of colleges with programs offering laptop computers hasn’t hurt business. “We rarely sell desktops anymore because laptops have come down in price so much that they’re affordable for everyone, so we haven’t really seen a dip in laptop sales at all,” he said.

Hot-selling accessories at Circuit City: flash drives, wireless adaptors, printers and anti-virus protection programs. “We’re doing a lot of key promotions right now during back-to-school season like free PC check-ups,” said Wilkinson. “If you’re a student or teacher and need work done on your PC, we’re offering 50% off.”

About Lynne W. Jeter

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