Southern California consumers are optimistic about the economy's future, and will be demonstrating that enthusiasm by spending at least the same amount or more this year on back-to-school shopping versus last year, according to the "2001 Back-to-School Shopping Outlook Survey - Southern California," a study released today by Deloitte & Touche LLP.

Over half (59 per cent) of the families with school-age children surveyed plan to spend $200 or more per child on back-to-school clothing, which most (87 per cent) say is about the same or more than they spent in 2000. The majority of the respondents (70 per cent) expect the economy to stay the same or improve in the next 12 months.

In San Diego, the survey respondents were slightly less optimistic than the region overall: 67 per cent expect the economy to stay the same or improve in the coming year, with nearly 57 per cent planning to spend $200 or more on back-to-school clothing.

"Consumer sentiment regarding back-to-school spending is an encouraging sign for retailers who have recently suffered from flat-to-negative comp store sales trends," said Theresa Drew, managing partner for the San Diego office of Deloitte & Touche.

Online shopping appears to be leveling off, with 13 per cent of respondents planning to buy their back-to-school items via the Internet this year, compared to 13 per cent in 2000.

The obstacles to Internet shopping still remain, with the inability to try on clothing as the most often cited response for not using the Internet to purchase back-to-school apparel (48 per cent). Other major obstacles mentioned were security worries (20 per cent), limited selection (12 per cent), lack of a computer or Internet access (11 per cent), expensive delivery/shipping charges (10 per cent), inconvenience (nine per cent), and discomfort with Internet transactions (eight per cent).

In San Diego, Internet usage mirrored that of the Southern California region overall, with 13 per cent of respondents planning to do their back-to-school shopping via the Internet, compared to about 15 per cent last year.

More families plan to do the majority of their shopping in department stores, 39 per cent this year, versus 38 per cent last year. Additionally, 33 per cent prefer discount stores, versus 44 per cent last year; and 20 per cent favour specialty stores, versus 29 per cent last year.

Department stores are also the venue of choice for San Diego shoppers (41 per cent), compared to discount stores (36 per cent), and specialty stores (17 per cent).

Catalogue shopping still popular
While a larger number of Southern California respondents (20 per cent) plan to shop via catalogues rather than online, that number dipped slightly from last year (22 per cent). As in past years, older shoppers were more apt to say they'd use catalogues; 25 per cent of those aged 45 and older plan to do so, versus 15 per cent of those aged 35-44, and 17 per cent of those under age 34.

Southern California consumers continue to rank quality merchandise as the most important attribute (96 per cent of respondents) they look for when considering where to shop for back-to-school. Other important factors included low prices (94 per cent), convenient store location (92 per cent), large selection (91 per cent), and good customer service (91 per cent).

San Diego shoppers ranked quality merchandise and low prices of equal importance (97 per cent each), with a large selection and convenient store location tying for second place (92 per cent each).

Slightly more than a third (36 per cent) of parents said they planned to buy specific brands, a sizable increase from last year (26 per cent). The most often mentioned "must-have" brands were Quiksilver and Gap (17 per cent each), followed by Levi's (12 per cent), Old Navy (10 per cent), and Roxy (seven per cent). Skateboard clothing or other items (12 per cent of mentions), and jeans (nine per cent) led the most cited items.

The majority of respondents (72 per cent) plan to do their back-to-school shopping in August, while increased numbers (14 per cent this year versus nine per cent last year) were waiting until September. A few (six per cent) had already hit the stores in June and July.