PhotoLittle by little, consumers are slogging through the annual task of back-to-school shopping.

The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics finds the average family with kids in grades K-12 has completed almost half (48%) of their shopping as of early August, down a touch from last year when 50% had it all wrapped up.

“It is evident that many families are still considering price and value when shopping for their back-to-school and college needs,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Shopping early and often is a trend we have seen from many budget-conscious consumers over the last few years. In the weeks ahead, parents will take advantage of the aggressive deals that retailers will offer as they get ready to welcome the fall season merchandise.”

K-12 shopping habits

Just 13% of families with children in grades K-12 have completed their shopping lists, while 22% haven't even started. When asked which back-to-school items they still needed to complete their shopping list, 77% of consumers said they need to buy school supplies, followed by clothing (70%) and shoes (57%).

When searching for the perfect deals, 48% of shoppers look to coupons. That's the highest in the survey’s history. Families will also take advantage of in-store promotions (39%) and advertising inserts (33%) to complete their shopping lists. Those who started shopping early said half of their purchases were influenced by coupons, sales, and/or promotions.

The survey found that 64% of supply purchases for back-to-school are influenced by school requirements, with 45% of parents buying electronics saying they were influenced by their schools.

When it comes to where consumers will finish their shopping, 53% will head to discount stores, 51% to department stores, 39% to clothing stores, and 37% to office supply stores. More will shop online this year -- 31% compared with 27% last year -- the highest in the survey’s history.

Asked what payment method they'll use most often to complete their purchases, 49% of consumers said they'll use their debit cards while 29% will use credit cards. Cash (21%) and checks (2%) will hardly be used as primary forms of payment -- reaching the lowest levels ever in survey history.

How the college crowd shops

Similar to back-to-school shoppers, college students and families with students have completed almost 48% of their shopping, versus 49% last year. According to the survey, only 15% of consumers have completed their shopping lists, down 4% from this point last year.

“When it comes to big spending events such as back-to-school and back-to-college, families are being very savvy in how they tackle their lists,” said Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “Families are slowly completing their shopping this season while taking advantage of expected promotions that will continue through Labor Day, and spreading their budget as necessary.”

When asked which back-to-college items are still needed to complete their shopping lists, 61% said school supplies, followed by clothing (50%) and personal care items (33%).

College consumers will likely complete the rest of their shopping at discount stores (42%, lowest in survey history), followed by department stores (42%, highest in survey history) and online shopping (40%, also a survey high).

As is the case with K-12 shoppers, coupons and promotions are helping consumers with back-to-college purchases. Forty-two percent of college consumers say they are using coupons to complete their shopping list. Others will take advantage of in-store promotions (32%), followed by advertising inserts (29%). Half of those who have already made back-to-college purchases said they were influenced by promotions.

Debit/check cards are the most preferred method of payment for college shoppers, with 44% using them. Credit cards continue to make gains, with 36% of respondents using them to complete their purchases.

The survey, which asked 6,915 consumers about both back-to-school and back-to-college shopping plans, was conducted August 2-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

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