PITTSBURGH (CBS) – Back-to-school shopping is now the second biggest retail event of the year, right after Christmas.

For Kathleen Sharer and her daughters, back-to-school shopping is a lesson in persistence. They drove half an hour to a Target store because the shelves at their local Target were bare.

“They are just cleaned out,” Kathleen said. “There’s not a lot of choice. There’s just a few folders.”

On average, parents plan to spend nearly $700 per child this year, an 8 percent increase over last year. And NerdWallet’s Courtney Jespersen says there’s a reason for that.

“If you’re a student nowadays, you need a lot more than a pencil and a backpack,” she said.

Parents are buying more, schools are requiring more, and retailers are starting to treat back-to-school season like the holiday season.

“There were back-to-school sales at the beginning [and] in the middle of July,” Jespersen said. “They really want you to start shopping earlier and earlier.”

Many retailers are making it easier to spend more with free in-store pickup for online orders and back-to-school sales on everything from laptops to patio furniture and grills. Subscription clothing companies are now catering to kids, and Target’s even launching pop-up stores on some college campuses.

But when it comes to saving on school supplies, Jespersen says procrastination can pay off.

“Deals will get better simply because retailers want to move that inventory,” she said.

She says expect the best deals in October, though selection will shrink. In the meantime, you can compare prices and ask stores to price match.

According to Deloitte, 81 percent of parents say they plan to shop at mass merchants like Target and Walmart.

Generally, experts don’t advise doing your back-to-school shopping online. Even with free shipping, shoppers tend to spend more, buying things they don’t need just to meet the minimum for free shipping.

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter