Back-to-college shopping is in full swing – and in the realm of online retail, there are a few magic numbers that have caught our eye. First, there’s 37.3% – that’s the number of back-to-college shoppers buying something online this year – a record high since 2007; and $1,135.62 – the combined average that online back-to-college shoppers plan to spend overall. And if that wasn’t enough good news, the back-to-college survey conducted by BIGinsight for NRF earlier this month indicates that online shoppers will spend a solid 25% more than all back-to-college shoppers. And in case you missed it, we haven’t forgotten the back-to-school crowd. Be sure to check out the Back-to-School online shopping outlook we posted last week.
In some categories, online back-to-college shoppers tend to spend a bit more on merchandise. This group expects to spend more than one-third more than all back-to-college shoppers for electronics and computer related goods, dorm and apartment furnishings, and food items, not to mention more than the net average on clothing, shoes, and more. In addition to the web, about half of online back-to-college shoppers will also shop in department stores, discount stores, the college bookstore, and clothing stores, among other venues. Among consumer tactics to find the best values this year, these consumers anticipate shopping for sales more often, comparison shopping more online, buying more store and generic brands, and using coupons more, among other tactics.
Not surprisingly, smartphones and tablet devices figure prominently in online back-to-college shoppers’ plans. Half of smartphone owners in this group expect to research products and compare prices using this device, while approximately one third will tap their smartphone to look up retailer information, buy products, use apps to shop, and/or redeem coupons. Three in five tablet owners anticipate researching and pricing back-to-college items using their tablet device, half will make purchases, and almost two out five plan to redeem coupons.
So what are the keys to engaging these back-to-college online shoppers? In one (sort of) word: “mo-cial“.
Start back-to-college conversations early. According to a study conducted by MRY of 200 “Class of 2015” Facebook communities, comprising over 50,000 students across 50,000 threads, the back-to-college conversation hardly limits itself to summer months anymore. Rather, college-bound students started connecting with fellow peers way back in March, discussing everything from college acceptances in early spring to topics such as roommates, room assignments and orientation in June and July – and beyond. Once dorm room assignments come through, MRY notes, “They socialize any and all questions, from the exact size of their beds to how they should be accessorizing their rooms. Rather than relying on the school’s official packing list, students turn to their peers to find out how to best prepare and what they really need.” And this year’s data was in-line with this assessment. BIGinsight found that 29% of all back-to-college shoppers are starting to shop at least two months before school starts, up significantly since last year (24.4%), and highest in the survey’s history.
Make social central to campaigns and shopping. Per the same MRY study, “Of the Class of 2015, 50% have over 300 friends on Facebook, 43% have “liked” more than 23 brands, 40% visit Facebook more than 10 times per day … and 58% use Twitter ‘all the time’.” If college students are among a retailer’s target customers, then Facebook, Twitter and arguably YouTube are among the most important places for retailers to engage with this audience. As the study exhorts brands, “Don’t just solve their need, bake in social through every step of the process.” One way would be to showcase smart furnishings ideas, and let those college shoppers share those ideas and their purchases with their social network. Tweet in-store events and specials and encourage these shoppers to retweet. With YouTube growing as a bona-fide commerce venue, providing style guides, “how to”s, and more will showcase your products and how those meet specific back-to-college shopper needs.
Socialize your mobile site and marketing. The MRY study found also that, “…67% access social sites from their smartphone, [and] 75% upload photos via mobile devices,” highlighting the seamless integration of social and mobile for college students today. For shopping purposes specifically, Shop.org’s 2012 Social & Mobile Commerce Consumer Study found that 3 out of 10 consumers aged 18 to 34 years old have taken a picture of a product, sent pictures of products to friends, texted or called friends about products, and/or searched for a nearby store. With mobile devices enabling a running dialogue and commentary about (and with) the world around them, retailers should ensure that their sites and / or specialized micro-sites are optimized for mobile devices, that marketing messages work well on mobile devices, and that customers have the tools to easily spread the word “mo-cially” about back-to-college ideas and solutions they’re finding.