NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Back-to-school may see more retailers make the grade than previously expected, but discounts and promotions will continue to drive shoppers. The National Retail Federation found American families will spend $606.40 on average on clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics this fall, compared with an average of $548.72 in 2009. This is even more than consumers planned to spend prior to the recession according to the NRF. In 2007, the NRF survey indicated families were looking to spend approximately $563.49 and in 2006 said they would shell out $527.08 for back-to-school supplies.
Spending for children in kindergarten through the 12th grade is expected to hit $21.25 billion this year. Factor college students into the mix and that number jumps to $55.12 billion. International Council of Shopping Centers also has a rather optimistic outlook for back-to-school, forecasting a 5.4% rise in total sales for the period. This would be the strongest results since 2005, when retailers collectively reported a 6.4% surge for the July to September period. Clothing will make up the biggest chunk of parents' budgets, with families with school-age children saying they will spend $225.47 on average on jeans, shirts and other apparel. Electronics like laptops and smartphones are the next priority, with those surveyed saying they would spend an average of $181.60 on this category. "We are encouraged by the fact that parents are eager to start their back-to-school shopping this year, but the industry still remains cautiously optimistic about recovery," NRF President and CEO Matt Shay said in a statement. "As the second half of the year gets under way, retailers will gauge their customers' spending appetites, which often serve as a bellwether for the all-important holiday season." So who will be this season's big winners? It looks like discounters Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Target ( TGT) will continue to reign supreme, with 71.2% of those surveyed saying they will shop these types of stores.
Translation: even though parents may spend more on their children, they are still looking for the best deal. The NRF survey found 44.3% will buy more store brand and generic products, compared with 41.7% in 2009. Department stores may also fare well, with more than half of those surveyed -- 53.9% -- saying they will shop at stores like Macy's ( M), Kohl's ( KSS) and J.C. Penney ( JCP). More people will also shop online this year, at 30.8% compared with 22.2% last year. Other popular destinations include clothing stores (49%), electronics stores (23%), office supply stores (41.2%), drug stores (19.5%) and thrift stores (17%). The first batch fall merchandise began hitting retail floors this week as retailers look to get a jump on the season. Staples ( SPLS) has gone so far as to declare July 14 the kick-off to the season. However, these efforts aren't likely to entice consumers just yet. The NRF found that the majority of shoppers -- 47.6% -- won't begin their shopping until a month before school starts, which means it will be a few weeks before traffic at malls picks up. Another 24.8% won't begin shopping until a week or two before the first day of school. -- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York. Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.