The Purchasing Power of College Kids (and How to Reach Them)

The Purchasing Power of College Kids (and How to Reach Them)
College students (and their parents) plan to spend a whopping $25.5 billion on back-to-college items this year. Here's how to tap into that spending.
by Colleen Egan Aug 16, 2018 — 2 min read
The Purchasing Power of College Kids (and How to Reach Them)

Back-to-school shopping is an incredibly important time for retailers. It’s the second-biggest retail season after the winter holidays, according to the NRF.

But back-to-school shoppers aren’t just K–12 students (and their parents). College students (and their parents) plan to spend a whopping $25.5 billion on back-to-college items this year, or about $1,330 per household, according to a survey by Deloitte.

The research found that parents foot most of the bill when it comes to back-to-college purchasing. In fact, 80 percent of parents plan to cover more than half of the spending, compared with 18 percent of students.

While parents do the bulk of the spending, the survey found that students strongly influence the decisions, with 82 percent of parents planning to collaborate on purchasing with their kids.

We’ve put together some ideas for marketing to college students before the school year starts. But keep in mind — given the data we’ve shared — that you want to think about appealing to their parents as well.

4 Ideas for Reaching Back-to-College Shoppers

1. Leverage the power of user-generated content

Both research and anecdotal evidence show the efficacy of user-generated content (UGC). Why is it so potent? Because increasingly savvy consumers trust the word of their friends, family, and fellow shoppers over a company’s paid advertising campaign.

And what demographic is savvier than young millennials and members of Generation Z, who have grown up with social media?

These consumers are tough customers, so you need to win their trust. Highlight positive posts and reviews by loyal customers, especially local social media influencers. To jumpstart this effort, encourage shoppers to tag your business for a chance to be featured or entered in a giveaway. Above all, though, earn the respect of your college-age audience by maintaining your authenticity as a brand.

2. Launch exclusive deals on social media

If consumers know you’re sending the same message through email, your website, and your social channels, what’s the incentive to follow you on social?

Instead, launch social-only deals, so consumers realize staying in the know means they need to stay on top of your latest posts.

3. Create a targeted email marketing campaign

Take a look at your email marketing audience. (If you haven’t created an email marketing strategy yet, start here.) What do you know about them? Do you have their age range? Interests? What types of messaging do they respond to?

Take a deep dive into your analytics to create an email campaign that is geared toward your college-age students with an enticing subject line (to get them to open the email) and offers that will take them to your site or bring them into your store.

While you’re at it, launch a separate email campaign that targets your customers with college-age children.

4. Host an Insta-worthy in-person event

Appeal to your college-age customers’ FOMO with some IRL experiences (preferably without turning them off with failed attempts at slang). Plan a shopping event with food, beverages, live music, and killer selfie opportunities — not to mention great deals. And don’t forget to livestream the event and post photos throughout.

Colleen Egan
Colleen Egan writes for Square, where she covers everything from how aspiring entrepreneurs can turn their passion into a career to the best marketing strategies for small businesses who are ready to take their enterprise to the next level.


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