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Shopping for Back-to School? Don't Forget Your Smartphone

If you're looking for trends to emerge from this back-to-school shopping season that will give us a taste of what's to come for the Christmas holiday, take a look at a new study from Deloitte.

Shoppers
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Shoppers

The consulting group issued the results of its back-to-school spending survey and found many of the trends this year are strikingly similar to those that played out last year. However, this year, the group asked consumers who own smartphones if they will use them to shop, and nearly two-thirds said they did.

The survey was commissioned by Deloitte and conducted by an independent research company between July 5 and July 11. The survey polled 1,000 parents of school-aged children in grades K-12.

Although three out of five of these shoppers will use the devices to get price information, more than two out of five say they will download discounts, coupons or sale information to their smartphones.

The good news is that retailers are in a much better position to meet customers' needs on their Web-enabled smartphones than they were last year. But this also reinforces the idea that there will be a lot of bargain hunting this year.

Overall, the results of Deloitte's survey showed nearly nine out of 10 consumers plan to maintain or increase their spending this year, but it's not because they're feeling more comfortable going on a spending spree.

Instead, consumers are anticipating that products will cost more or they will need to spend more on school supplies that school districts are no longer supplying. (Many schools have adopted a new tradition of giving students long lists of supplies—everything from pens and paper to tissues and cleaning wipes—to buy.)

"Retailers need to be prepared for a consumer who is sensitive to prices, especially with the pinch households are feeling from higher gas and energy costs this summer," said Alison Paul, vice chairman of Deloitte and its retail and distribution sector leader.

Social networks also will play a bigger role in back-to-school shopping, according to the survey.

More than one-third of parents plan to use social networking sites to assist their shopping, up from 29 percent last year. Among these respondents, nearly seven out of 10 plan to do so to find out about promotions, 44 percent will browse products and 28 percent will read reviews and recommendations.

But using smartphones and social networking sites aren't the only changes that consumers will make. According to the survey, 55 percent of parents are taking inventory and only buying what the family needs, while 26 percent said they will reuse last year's items due to concerns about the economy or their finances.

However, consumers who earn more than $100,000 said their financial situation is the same or better than last year, compared with 66 percent of respondents who earned less than $100,000.

"We continue to see a tale of two consumers," Paul said. One reason is the higher price of gas and food—expenses that often cannot be avoided—are consuming a larger chunk of the earnings of the lower-income consumers.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

Retail