But retailers are offering another alternative: good deals.
"Retailers have to come out there be heavily promotional," says Scott Krugman of the National Retail Federation, "come out there with a lot of deep discounts to entice consumers to come back to stores."
Families are spending about $60 more getting ready for school than they did last year, reports CBS News national correspondent Jim Axelrod
But so far early back-to-school spending has not been enough to drive retail as a whole forward. If you want to see one of the healthiest parts of the entire retail sector, you've got to get out of the store entirely - and head to your computer.
Out of the 13 categories that make up the retail sector, just four show growth in the last year: car sales and parts, up 1.6 percent; gas station sales, up 2.3 percent; restaurant and bar sales, up .2 percent - and internet retail sales, which increased by .2 percent.
"It's almost cool to be value conscious these days," Loren Bendele, CEO of Savings.com told CBS News. "No one wants to waste money."
Bendele's company, Savings.com, provides online coupons for shoppers like Mindi Cherry.
"My day to day shopping strategy is that I go on sites like Savings.com or just look at the different websites to see what the good deals are for the day," says Cherry, who makes 95 percent of her back-to-school purchases on the internet.
"I'm actually buying them (her kids) a little more because I'm saving more," says Cherry. "It frees up a lot of money."
Offering internet discounts is a trend for retailers to keep in mind perhaps, since back-to-school shopping is the best indication of what will happen at Christmas.