NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Retailers banking on back-to-school sales to jump-start revenue heading into the fall may be in for an unpleasant surprised.

According to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, back-to-school sales this year are expected to fall compared to last year. After strong spending in 2012, families with school-age children are expected to spend an average of $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, 8% less than they spent in 2012, the survey forecasts.

Total spending on back-to-school is expected to reach $26.7 billion. Total back-to-school and back-to-college spending combined will reach $72.5 billion, the survey says.

"The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind. Having splurged on their growing children's needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. "As they continue to grapple with the impact of increased payroll taxes, Americans will look to cut corners where they can, but will buy what their kids need. It's important to note, however, that spending levels are still well above where they were a few years ago."

On a positive note, consumers are already out shopping for school items. The survey found that 24% of respondents said they will begin shopping at least two months before school begins - the highest percentage seen in the survey's 11-year history.

"We continue to see a shift in shopping patterns during big spending 'events', where consumers typically head out early to take advantage of fresh inventory options and initial markdowns, then see a lull only to rev back up again when final sales appear," said Prosper Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. "Hoping to spread out their budgets, but still reap the benefits of getting the products their children want, parents this back-to-school season will comparison shop online and around town at their child's favorite stores, potentially even more than once, as they seek to find bargains and products that offer the best value."

Course the biggest component of back-to-school budgets will go toward new apparel and accessories, however fewer families with children in grades K-12 will purchase electronics (55.7%), and those that are going to invest in a new tablet or smartphone are going to spend slightly less than last year ($199.05 vs. $217.88 in 2012), the survey found.

Shoppers will mainly frequent their favorite discount stores, but more respondents said they will also visit department stores (61.7% vs. 59.9%). That's good news for the likes of Macy's ( M) and J.C. Penney ( JCP), for instance.

J.C. Penney's CEO Mike Ullman has expressed that the company's is depending on back-to-school sales to fast forward its turnaround. Ullman was brought back as CEO in April following the departure of Ron Johnson, who did away with many of the retailer's sales and coupons and private apparel lines, much to the dislike of consumers.

Consumers also plan to spend less in the larger back-to-college market.

According to a separate NRF survey, college students and their families will spend an average $836.83 on apparel, electronics, dorm furnishings and other things, down 8% from last year.

While consumers plan to spend fewer dollars in most college-related categories, companies like Target ( TGT), Wal-Mart ( WMT), TJX's ( TJX) Home Goods store and Bed, Bath & Beyond ( BBBY) that can cater to dorm and apartment furnishings, will benefit.

About 42% of families will spend an average $104.76, up 4% from last year, on new bedding, small refrigerators and microwaves.

"The back-to-college market continues to grow, with specialty, discount, department, office supply and even drug stores luring students and their parents with attractive deals on everything from microwavable food products to personal care items and of course, home furnishings. In such a competitive space, we expect the deals over the next few weeks to really turn some heads," NRF's Shay said.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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