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Electronics juice back-to-school

Retail experts say electronics are charging up back-to-school sales.

According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes and supplies, up 5 percent from $634.78 last year.

And gadgets are bolstering the consumer activity.

Purchasing a smartphone or tablet is no longer just a way for kids to be seen as cool by classmates. Schools encourage the use of the technology and many implement it as part of the curriculum.

“They are viewed as a necessity,” said Kyle Earley, store manager of Staples on Illinois Road in Fort Wayne. “The way the Internet is accessed is increasingly mobile. Many people use devices for business, leisure and school. I call it the ecosystem of connectivity.”

In other words, the Franklin Planner's days are numbered.

Kathy Woodward isn't so sure that's a good thing.

The DeKalb County mother came out of the Staples in Fort Wayne with a bag full of supplies – including headphones for a school-issued iPad that her 6-year-old daughter, Randi, can't wait to hold.

“I guess I'm from the old school,” the 57-year-old said. “I think iPads are great, but kids should still have a book in their hands. Part of learning is touching and feeling. And what about penmanship? You won't practice it by pecking away at a tablet all day.”

Her daughter is looking forward to first grade at J.E. Ober Elementary School in Garrett, where she'll no doubt swipe and pinch away at her iPad.

“Uh-huh, I like it,” Randi said, as Mom did her best not to roll her eyes.

“Well, that's how it is today,” Woodward said, “but there should still be some balance.”

Since 2009, the National Retail Federation has surveyed school shoppers about how the U.S. economy will affect their spending. More than 81 percent of the respondents said the economy looms large.That is about the same as 80 percent last year.

When it comes to spending their hard-earned dollars, more families this year said they would look to store brands or generic items for school. Thirty-four percent said they would forgo brand name merchandise, compared with 32.8 percent last year.

The poll of 6,178 consumers was conducted this month. The consumer survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points.

“I bought a little bit of everything – you name it,” Woodward said. “Paper, spiral notebooks the whole shebang.”