In a dramatic shift, back-to-college spending isn't expected to rise this year because of a sharp drop in spending by freshmen and their parents.
First-year college students will spend 19% less on back-to-college shopping, according to National Retail Federation survey data. The decline is a setback for struggling retailers, who are trying to boost sales during their second-biggest season after the winter holidays.
"Freshmen have always been the cash cow for retailers when it comes to the back-to-college season," NRF spokeswoman Ellen Davis says.
The projected downturn in spending is "an eyebrow-raiser," though slight shifts in spending in other grade levels should make up for the loss.
Overall back-to-college spending should be flat, with shoppers expected to spend $616.13 on average in 2010, down from an average of $618.12 spent last year.
Driving the decline in freshman spending is an expected cutback in the purchase of electronics.
On average, freshmen plan to slash their spending on laptops, MP3 players and other gadgets by more than $150 this year, the NRF says.
The Consumer Electronics Association predicts electronics sales will be up 3% from 2009, far better than last year but well below 2007 and 2008.
The NPD Group's Marshal Cohen attributes the decline in electronics sales to more students living at home and enrolling in local colleges.