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NEW YORK — Fewer U.S. parents plan to cut their back-to-school budgets, but they will count on smartphones and social networking to find the best bargains during the second biggest shopping season of the year, according to a Deloitte survey released on Tuesday.

“Retailers may be encouraged that fewer consumers are planning to pare back this year, although they may find that shoppers continue to be deliberate in their purchases,” said Alison Paul, Deloitte’s retail sector leader in the United States.

In the online survey, 28 percent of 1,050 parents of school-age children said they were planning to spend more this year on back-to-school clothing and supplies, while 17 percent said they would spend less.

The survey showed that among households that expect to spend more, about 34 percent said their children needed more expensive items, such as computers, and more than 26 percent said school budget cuts meant parents needed to pay more for children’s items.

Back-to-school shopping trails only Christmas for the amount of money consumers spend in a season.

The survey was conducted between July 9 and 11, and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

This year, 58 percent of respondents said they would change the way they shop for back-to-school items by buying more items on sale or only items family members really needed.

Last year, 70 percent of the respondents said they expected to change the way they shopped because of the recession, down from 90 percent in 2008.

“The survey indicates that consumers’ recession-induced behaviors are beginning to wane as households seek to replenish certain items and worry less about the economy,” Paul said.

Where’s the sale?

Twenty-nine percent or 305 of the people surveyed said they planned to use mobile phones for price information, retailer advertisements and to find discounts and coupons.

An equal number of people said they would use social networking sites to find promotions, look at products, and read reviews and recommendations.

“Consumers are increasingly on the phone, online and on-the-go,” said Paul, adding that retailers using mobile applications, text alerts and video content may win an increased share of shoppers’ back-to-school budgets.

Discount stores were still the No. 1 shopping destination, with 89 percent of consumers surveyed saying they planned to shop at discount stores for back-to-school items.

According to the survey, 31 percent of consumers said they would shop at traditional department stores, up from 26 percent last year, and 23 percent cited specialty clothing stores, an increase of six percentage points over 2009.

After two consecutive years as the second most popular destination, dollar stores dropped to the third most popular destination behind office supply/technology stores.

Copyright 2010 Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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