WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug 19, 2010 / Consumers got a jump start on their back-to-school and college shopping this summer as extreme temperatures drove them into stores and out of the pool, according to NRF’s latest Back-to-School/College Consumer Intentions and Actions survey.

The average family has completed 43.2 percent of their school shopping, compared to 41.6 percent at this time last year. Similarly, families of college students have completed 43.1 percent of their shopping, versus 41.0 percent the previous year. NRF’s 2010 Back-to-School/College survey found Americans are expected to spend a total of $55.12 billion on K-12 and college merchandise this year.

“It’s good to see consumers responding to back-to-school sales and promotions,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Back-to-school will be the first real test for retailers and the economy as we plan for the holiday season.”

Back-to-School Shoppers Prefer Coupons; Head Online to Finish Shopping

Although the average family has completed 43.2 percent of their school shopping, more than one-quarter (26.8%) have not started yet.

A true sign of the times, more families this year say their school purchases were influenced by coupons, sales and/or promotions. Seventeen percent (17.0%) of families with children in grades K-12 say 100 percent of their purchases were influenced by bargains and coupons, up from 14.7 percent last year.

The survey also found more families will use the Internet for school purchases this year. Up from 12.2 percent last year, 16.0 percent of K-12th grade families will finish their shopping online. Additionally, more families will shop at office supply stores (32.4% vs. 27.3% in 2009). Other anticipated shopping destinations include discount stores (59.3%), department store (42.7%), clothing stores (34.3%), electronics stores (9.8%), catalogs (4.7%), drug stores (11.1%) and thrift store/resale shop (11.4%).

When asked which retailers had the best back to school television commercial, Walmart, Target, Staples, JCPenney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Old Navy, Office Depot, Office Max and Sears make the top 10. More than one in four (27.0%) say the commercial motivated them to shop at that retailer. The survey also asked if retailers’ websites influenced them to shop at a particular store; compared to last year, families of K-12th graders (22.7% vs. 18.5% in 2009) and college students (22.0% vs. 14.2% in 2009) were more influenced by retailers’ websites this year as well.

Additionally, advertising inserts (41.5%), in-store promotions (39.6%), word of mouth (27.4%), newspapers (25.5%) and direct mail (21.7%) were among the top media influencers when deciding why to shop at a particular store.

More Than One-Third of College Shoppers Have Yet to Begin

Though promotions and sales abound, families with children already in or planning to attend college this fall are holding off for last-minute shopping excursions rather than rushing out the door. More than one-third (35.1%) of families with college-aged children say they have not started shopping yet. That’s compared to just one-quarter (26.8%) of families with children in grades K-12 who had not hit the stores by mid-August.

When asked where they will do the remainder of their back-to-college shopping, more people this year will shop at department stores (36.7% vs. 33.5% in 2009), online (29.6% vs. 24.1% in 2009), and electronics stores (17.9% vs. 13.2% last year).

College students and their families ranked Walmart, Target, Staples, JCPenney, Kmart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Office Depot and Office Max as having the best back-to-college television commercials. Nearly one-quarter (23.7%) said they were motivated to shop at that retailer because of the commercial.

The survey also found coupons (38.6%), in-store promotions (31.0%), advertising inserts (28.9%), television/broadcast (23.7%) and word of mouth (29.5%) to be among the most influential media when it comes to shopping at a particular store.