ó Itís back-to-college season, which means retailers
are battling to equip as many of Americaís freshmen
with laptops, futons and minifridges as they can. In the
flood of deals and discounts, some have their eyes on a
bigger prize: figuring out how a new generation of
customers shops and hooking a group of potential
lifelong repeat customers.
average family with college-age kids plans to spend
$888.71 getting ready to go back to campus, about half
of which will go for electronics, apparel and dorm
furnishings, according to a National Retail Federation
when itís freshmen going off to college for the first
time, or a sophomore or junior establishing their first
apartment, itís a big chunk of change," Retail
Systems Research analyst Nikki Baird said.
while those sales are compelling in their own right,
companies with more unique or engaging pitches to
college students are likely to have an advantage.
Bed Bath & Beyond and Best Buy all let students set
up wish lists similar to wedding registries, and Target
customers created 136,000 of them last year. Best Buy
offers deals that are strictly for students year-round,
including a discounted round-the-clock Geek Squad tech
Bed Bath & Beyond, students can make an appointment
to shop with a "college expert" or check for a
school-specific packing list.
promotes its subscriptions, which send customers refills
of household staples, to students and parents who at
least want to make sure their child regularly restocks
on cleaning supplies, even if thereís no guarantee
theyíll be used.
year, Target hired three "college stylists" to
create YouTube videos advising students on dorm design.
It also introduced a chatbot on the messaging app Kik
that can suggest college-oriented products and field
our first experiment with the platform. Itís a way for
us to try and learn, and with what better guests than
digitally native college students who are already using
these platforms?" Target spokesman Lee Henderson
if any retailers have cracked the code of how best to
engage with the next generation of shoppers online, and
back-to-college is an easy time to reach a lot of young
customers at once to test new ideas, Baird said.
a chance to check to see if you engage with consumers at
that level; does it work better than throwing promotions
at them?" she said.
has opened or is planning to open several of its new
small-format stores near college campuses. The chain
hosts after-hours shopping parties at stores near 86
campuses around the start of the school year, Henderson
said. Target buses the students to stores with DJs, free
samples and coupons.
Oakes, Columbiaís director of residence life, said
Target is the only company thatís asked to host such
an event with the college. "The event is popular
because the campus doesnít have a big enough spot for
a schoolwide welcome-week party," Oakes said.
though students donít generally have as much
disposable income as older groups, their potential value
as lifelong customers makes a small early discount
worthwhile, said Alexander Chernev, professor of
marketing at Northwestern Universityís Kellogg School
students also can be easier new customers to draw
because most havenít done much household shopping, he
Paula Herbst, 18, an incoming freshman at the University
of Chicago who finds shopping "kind of
try to do it as little as possible," Herbst said.
Herbst is starting from scratch when it comes to
outfitting her dorm room. She had a three-page list of
items to buy and will likely need to restock at some
point this year.
good to be the company that helps them shape (their)
preferences," Chernev said.
also has taken a particular interest in students,
offering six-month free trials of its Prime membership
program, which includes free two-day shipping on many
items, after which they pay half the normal rate.
recently, Amazon has been building on-campus stores
where students can pick up and drop off packages.