Dollars for Scholars, Penny-Pinchers, Etc.

It may be a bummer for kids, but back-to-school season should give the economy a boost. A study conducted for the National Retail Federation by BIGresearch forecasts that families with school-age kids will spend an average of $451 on back-to-school goods this fall, vs. $442 last year. Clothing and shoes will eat up nearly two-thirds of the money, while electronics and computer-related gear will account for an average of $86 per household. A report by The NPD Group predicts “healthy sales increases” for such traditional back-to-school items as clothing, shoes, backpacks and school supplies. The apparel sector could fare best, as 36 percent of NPD’s respondents said they expect to buy more this fall than last. And, since students want to look their scholarly best, 21 percent plan to spend more on back-to-school cosmetics and skincare items. NPD sees less inclination to buy expensive electronic items this fall.

Romantic-data discrepancy of the week: In a poll of 13- to 24-year-olds by AMP Insights, 27 percent said their priorities this summer include “have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” But just 16 percent listed “fall in love” among their chief summer ambitions. Perhaps the gap between these two cohorts is bridged by the 11 percent hoping to “take up a new hobby.” In any case, these options lagged behind the poll’s top vote-getters: “make a lot of money” (50 percent) and “get in shape” (49 percent).

If we weren’t a nation of cheapskates before the economy went bad, we are now. There’s fresh evidence of this in an AC Nielsen study on dollar stores. As you’d expect, low-income households are especially likely to shop at dollar stores; 74 percent of those with annual income under $20,000 did so last year. But so did a majority of households making $50,000-69,999 a year, with 58 percent shopping at such stores last year, vs. 48 percent in 2000. There was a similar rise in incidence of dollar-store shopping among households in the $40,000-49,999 bracket, from 54 percent in 2000 to 64 percent last year.

You wouldn’t want a marketer of big knives to run namby-pamby ads, and Gerber Legendary Blades makes sure to avoid doing so. And you’ve got to admit, a man who has the gumption to foist a deer head on his girlfriend is a worthy exemplar of the brand’s “Fend for yourself” motto. JohnsonSheen of Portland, Ore., created the ad.

Marketers hope the proliferation of broadband connections will give Internet commerce a boost. You can see their point. As a Scarborough Research study confirms, people with at-home broadband access are more likely than other Internet users to spend lavishly online. In fact, broadband users accounted for 31 percent of consumer online spending last year, while numbering just 19 percent of the online population. Does this mean today’s slowpokes will spend more online once they’ve got broadband access? Maybe, but there are reasons to be cautious about assuming so. As Scarborough notes, broadband’s early adopters differ from other Internet users. Compared to all online adults, broadbanders are 12 percent more likely to have a college degree and 17 percent more likely to have a post-graduate degree. They’re also 32 percent more likely to have annual household income of $75,000-plus.

let’s put this issue behind us. An online poll by posed the question, “How satisfied are you with the appearance of your butt?” A majority of participants declared themselves “very dissatisfied” (42 percent) or “somewhat dissatisfied” (29 percent); 28 percent were satisfied, to one degree or another. The poll tactfully refrained from asking whether respondents were satisfied with the appearance of other people’s butts.

If you want a tabloid full of fictitious stories about vegetables—and which of us does not?—then The Sunripe Gazette is the publication for you. Created as a trade-press insert to promote Pacific Tomato Growers’ Sunripe brand, the Gazette features bogus stories with vegetable themes. For instance, an article about Ted Williams carries the headline, “Slugger’s Son Admits Mistake, Meant to Freeze Lima Beans.” As for the celeb-and-veg quiz shown here, the “answers” given at the bottom of the page are as follows: “Winston Churchill, pudding; Jerry Springer, flank steak; Myrna Loy, billiards; Lee Trevino, Corn Nuts; Estee Lauder, tuna.” SenaReider of San Francisco created the oddball project.

The “Wealth Factor” Lives! During the 1990s, consumers spent freely because the paper value of their investments made them feel rich. After the bubble burst, several years of declining stock prices squelched that sort of sentiment. But the market’s gains so far this year have made a significant minority of consumers feel more solvent. According to the latest Cambridge Consumer Credit Index survey by International Communications Research, 28 percent of Americans “are willing to take on more credit-card debt because the value of their stock portfolios has risen recently.” Does a bull market do as much to build consumer confidence as a bear market does to tear it down? On that question, the polling firm’s analysis notes that when stock prices fell sharply last August, 43 percent of respondents said it made them less willing to take on additional credit-card debt.

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