Back-To-School Sales Down but Not Out, According to NPD

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Hand sanitizer, tissues, and notebook PCs are standout categories

Back-to-school at the office super stores was not bad, considering the economy and what we experienced during the first half of the year

Like most of 2009, back-to-school sales followed a downward trend, but there were a few bright spots for the U.S. consumer technology and school and office supply industries, according to leading market research company, The NPD Group.

Consumer technology revenue for the 7 week back-to-school period (July 26 - September 12) declined 12.5 percent versus 2008, to $7.6 billion, according to NPD's weekly tracking service. Revenue for school and office supplies at the office super stores declined 3 percent during this time period to $677.2 million.

Sales at the office super stores got a boost from flu fears as hand wipes, hand sanitizer, hand soap, and tissues saw the biggest year-over-year revenue boosts with triple and quadruple digit increases. Other heavily promoted must-haves, such as office paper, presentation products, folders, notebooks, appointment and planner books, and calendars all saw dollar increases as well.

"Back-to-school at the office super stores was not bad, considering the economy and what we experienced during the first half of the year," said Perry James, president of NPD's office supplies business. "All-in-all, being down three percent for this time of year after being down almost 10 percent for the first half of 2009 is positive news for retailers. Significant promotions early on got consumers into the stores to buy necessities. The market actually saw year-over-year growth four weeks in a row in late July and early August, which was enough to drive an OK back-to-school season."

Once again the only true must-have category for back-to-school in the consumer technology sector was notebook PCs. Notebook PCs were the largest dollar category in consumer technology and made up 21 percent of all revenue. Revenue was flat with 2008 as the average selling price of a notebook PC went from $804 in 2008 to $624 for the 2009 back-to-school season. Netbooks were a big draw this year accounting for 14 percent of all notebook units sold for back-to-school, up from just less than 2 percent of sales last year.

"Notebooks seem to be recession proof and this back-to-school season was no exception," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD. "We are seeing more consumers opt for netbooks and low-cost notebooks under $500 as viable options despite the changing economy. Low-cost notebooks and netbooks were heavily promoted this year as well. They accounted for almost half of all notebook PC Sunday advertising in July and August, according to NPD's retail insight service."

Major declines in average prices kept nearly all consumer technology categories from making any revenue gains, as prices ranged from flat for multi-function ink jet printers to down 30 percent for flat-panel TVs. And while weak average prices kept the industry from any revenue gains, they likely helped many categories deliver solid unit volumes despite the overall weak economy.

About The NPD Group, Inc.
The NPD Group is the leading provider of reliable and comprehensive consumer and retail information for a wide range of industries. Today, more than 1,700 manufacturers, retailers, and service companies rely on NPD to help them drive critical business decisions at the global, national, and local market levels. NPD helps our clients to identify new business opportunities and guide product development, marketing, sales, merchandising, and other functions. Information is available for the following industry sectors: automotive, beauty, commercial technology, consumer technology, entertainment, fashion, food and beverage, foodservice, home, office supplies, software, sports, toys, and wireless. For more information, contact us or visit and Follow us on Twitter: @npdtech and @npdgroup.

For more information:
Sarah Bogaty
+1 516 625 2357


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