Information technology, consumer electronics, apparel and skin-care will be popular product categories this back-to-school buying season according to market information provider The NPD Group Inc. It says jeans, in particular, will continue to be the hot apparel item sought after for back-to-school.

To predict this year's top sellers, NPD looked at last year's third-quarter results and current market trends. The research firm believes that not only is back-to-school is a significant shopping season for retailers, it is also a predictor for the upcoming Holiday buying period.

In terms of apparel, "this year's back-to-school sales will be an important indicator of how well the apparel industry will do for the rest of the year," said Marshal Cohen, co-president of NPDFashionworld.

"Based on sales of kids clothing January through May, we expect to see three to four per cent growth in clothing sales this back-to-school season compared to last year. Retailers will be conscious of maintaining or beating last year's revenue sales, even at the expense of profits. So, if sales are sluggish, as they were reported for July, then we may see promotions begin very early on."

This year, jeans will continue to be the hot apparel item sought after for back-to-school. "Kids will be asking for the latest low-rise jeans for girls and the baggiest jeans for boys," added Cohen. Also expected to do well this back-to-school season are khakis, underwear, athletic footwear and girls' fashion footwear.

The vast majority of apparel sales for back-to-school season last year came from the purchase of T-shirts, jeans, and necessities such as underwear and socks. In third-quarter 2001, parents bought 135 million T-shirts, over 50 million pairs of jeans, almost 155 million pairs of underwear and panties, and almost 250 million pairs of socks for the segment of children 5-12 years of age.