This year’s back-to-school shopping season will be quite different than years past, thanks to the focus on the economic recession and saving money. For retailers, back-to-school season is considered the second most important shopping season of the year (behind the holidays) and is often used to predict second half sales. Many fear that a tough back-to-school season could indicate an even tougher holiday season.

While retailers are cautiously examining their inventory and sales, consumers are also paying close attention to their numbers. According to the National Retail Federation, four out of five Americans have made some changes to back-to-school plans this year as a result of the downturn. In fact, the NRF predicts that the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $548.72 on school merchandise, a decline of 7.7% from 2008.

One tactic that many parents are using to deal with a lack of funds is to teach kids how to budget their money while they shop for the essentials. This approach definitely ties in with the sales- and price-focused messages seen from retailers this year. Target is even encouraging parents to make back-to-school shopping “one of the first math lessons of the year” by doing just that. They offer several list-making tools on their website, a Target ‘09 College Facebook page and a 44-page “Smart scholars save dollars” catalog.

I have two children going back to school. Sanaa (11) will start her first year of junior high and Aamir (14) is going into high school. This year, my wife and I developed clear lists and established budgets with the kids. We also selected just one store to buy from (Office Max). Making sure we were prepared with shopping lists, budgets and sticking to one store allowed us to save both time and money. We were able to get everything the kids needed for school and still had money from their budgets left over.

Marketers should take a cue from their customers and use this time to look at their own budgets. They should make sure that their marketing dollars are being spent wisely and on effective programs. The only way to ensure this is to test and learn using analytics. Analysis of current programs and customer behavior can help refine marketing campaigns, increase loyalty and drive profits during this challenging back-to-school season and beyond.

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