The economy is weighing heavily on the minds of back-to-school shoppers this year with 85 percent saying it will impact how, what, when, where and why they shop for school and college items.

That’s according to the National Retail Federation, which recently released its back-to-school trends for 2012.

The average family of K-12 students will spend $688 on supplies per child with online shoppers spending even more, averaging about $874 per student. In fact, since 2003, online shopping has quadrupled for back-to-school. Catalog shopping is making a comeback this year as well with 15 percent of shoppers saying they’ll purchase items via catalog.

“The catalog never actually went away, but the use of them did dwindle a little bit. We’re actually seeing college shoppers bringing it back this year, especially with their love of shopping online,” said Kathy Grannis, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation.

As more and more families are concerned about the economy, budget-conscious parents are cutting back on sending their college students off with emergency credit cards.

“Instead, parents are investing in gift cards for their children. This could be a way for them to shy away from the idea of a credit card. Gift cards allow students to still enjoy college on Mom and Dad without the hassle of debt,” said Grannis.

More shoppers will be hitting department stores this year as well.

“Six in ten will go to the popular chain department stores, which is actually the most in the survey’s history,” said Grannis. “That’s up from 57 percent who said so last year. Department stores in recent years have really jumped out in front of back-to-school and back-to-college shoppers with flashy promotions involving their private labels. They use their websites to their full advantage in creating these micro-sites that bring in teens and tweens in a very different way.”

When it comes to when they plan to shop, nearly one-quarter of back-to-school shoppers say they started in late-June or early July, nearly two months before school begins. Almost half say they usually begin three weeks to a month before.

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