Class, today's lesson in back-to-school shopping is what grownups call a good news/bad news situation.

First, the goods news: Back-to-school spending is expected to increase over last year, according to the retail analyzer ShopperTrak. The bad news: Shoppers won't be coming to the store as much.

ShopperTrak predicted that business will pick up 3.8% this August over last, while foot traffic will retreat 2.9%.

It doesn't take an A student in math to determine that as long as the cash registers are ringing more, that's a good thing overall. But stores will still have to sweat the concept of moving more merchandise to fewer customers. ShopperTrak, which tallies the number of visitors to 25,000 stores nationwide, hedged a little on its figures: If Congress and the president can't solve the debt ceiling puzzle, Americans might become skittish about spending an extra few bucks on jeans and backpacks, ShopperTrak said.

"With back-to-school shoppers planning fewer trips to the store -- and continued economic uncertainty -- retailers must maximize the limited number of opportunities to convert browsers to buyers," said ShopperTrak co-founder Bill Martin.

As parents and kids begin stocking up on supplies for the upcoming semester, retailers will be looking ahead as far as Christmas. Back-to-school sales often act as a crystal ball for holiday retail trends, according to ShopperTrak.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, class. Get those pencils and notebooks ready.

Thoughtful Shopping Ahead

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation expects flat to modest retail sales growth for the season, said Matt Shay, president and chief executive officer of the association, during the NRF's back-to-school conference call today.

The season, the second biggest consumer spending period after the winter holidays, will account for nearly $70 billion in K-12 and college spending, according to the NRF's Back-to-School Survey, conducted by BIGresearch. Parents of kids in grades K-12 will spend an average of $603.63 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, a few dollars shy of last year's spending levels, while the back-to-college set will spend about $808.71, down from $835.73 in 2010, the survey found.

"We think that this year, the theme for families really comes down to spending where you need and saving where you can," Shay said.

The still-tepid economy and lackluster job picture will mean that shoppers will be making "smart but thoughtful purchasing decisions," he said. "Parents are really going to be thoughtful before they go shopping."

But they won't be penny pinching as hard as they were in 2009, at the height of the recession, "when people just went out and looked for the best price -- period," he told DailyFinance.

"That has moderated somewhat, and is reflected in the fact that department stores will have a better year this year than last year."

Shoppers' muted spending cadence is expected to continue into the holiday season, the NRF predicts. Holiday promotions, also known as "holiday creep," could kick off as early as post-Labor Day this year, and like the back-to-school season, smart phones and tablet computers "are the big must-have products," Ellen Davis, vice president of the NRF, said during the call.

DailyFinance reporter Barbara Thau contributed to this article.

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Randi Weitzman

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August 06 2011 at 8:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The author says people won't be penny pinching like in 2009, I guess he stopped at happy hour before he wrote this article. Two million more people out of work since then, yeah lots of money to spend when the unemployment check stops coming in and gas is back to $4.00 a gallon. Wait till your taxes go up to cover the debt ceiling that will now be up 33 percent since 2008, yup Americans are just rolling in cash.

July 22 2011 at 6:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Since this time last year, inflation has accounted for prices going up somewhere betwen 3.3 and 3.6%, depending on your source. A 3.8% spending increase forecast for the 2011 school year, therefor, means consumers will be buying about the same amount of school supplies/clothing as they did in 2010 (no or very little improvement). Wage increases for 2011 are projected to be around 3%. Conclusion: People are buying about the same as last year, however, they are less able to afford it this year (2011). Overall this is not good news for the economy; the consumer is falling furthur behind. I'm sure there will be a lot of spin though as to how this year is better than last, that the economy is improving, "just look at the numbers." But as has been the usual the last 2 years, it's all hype and no substance. These numbers will be paraded on Wall Street and CNBC as things are getting better, you have to buy stocks (so we can make lots of money off you), but they never tell you the truth. It's all about spin, ripping the small investor off, and laughing all the way to the bank. Business as usual for Wall Street.

July 22 2011 at 1:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Spending more getting less indeed - Paid on a credit card so the analysts can write stupid articles stating the economy is growing, as Americans go back to crediting even essentials, such as Food, a warm or cool house, & gas to go to work - As a result this will allow for more excuses for already over priced energy mongers to suck some more out, & cause Food & essentials to go even higher causing the tug of war we are seeing daily with this already over manipulated market.

July 21 2011 at 8:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

save the economy, go school shopping. as for clothing, school uniforms should be required, would save a lot of angst for everyone. I vote with mike, got gold?

July 21 2011 at 6:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah, they will be spending more and getting less because the prices have risen so much... That's a no brainer! As long as the uncertainty continues in Washington then business' will continue to suffer. I'm not producing as much because sales have gotten so low, and the cost to produce has risen significantly. Cotton twill was 7.99yd--8 months ago-- now it's 12.99yd... I can't produce when prices go that high!

July 21 2011 at 4:27 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply