Finance and spending
min read

Back to school student shopping habits

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
March 24, 2023
Last updated
January 21, 2024

What this article covers

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Summer may only be just around the corner, but the Back to School season should already be on every youth marketer's mind. The return to education is one of the most important times in Gen Z's calendars. And for brands looking to engage students and build brand loyalty, it's one of the most important times for you too!

We recently released our US Back to School snapshot, which explores students' spending habits, shares how you can best support them financially during uncertain times, and discusses their priorities for the year ahead.

In this blog post, we share some exclusive data from the snapshot and the key trends that you need to be aware of as we head into the season.

What are Gen Z students spending their money on?

Taking the time to recognize where Gen Z students will be spending their money during the Back to School season will help brands to tailor their marketing and their discount programs. Understanding what students' priorities are will help marketers to really engage and connect with student consumers, something that's particularly important when we consider that 33% of students will be making pre-college purchases in the two months before their return/start.

University students laughing in a classroom

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fashion and retail sector is the highest priority for Gen Z students, with 59% stating that this will be where they'll be spending their money. This is closely followed by the health and beauty industry (45%), suggesting that Gen Zers across the country will be preparing for that Back to School glow up!

As reported in the snapshot, entertainment is the next priority for students, with 41% planning to spend money on hobbies and experiences, closely followed by nights out, which 35% of students are putting money aside for.

Last up is tech and mobile phones, with 21% of US students committing to spending money in this sector. More on this later!

Which brands have perfected their back to school student marketing?

Today's students are tomorrow's spenders. So it's vital for brands to take the time to connect with this community whilst they're still at college in order to build the foundations for long-standing loyalty.

And with so many brands wanting to capture the attention of Gen Z students, competition is fierce. So how can brands set themselves apart from the crowd?! Well, it's all about incentivizing spending and offering value, ensuring that young spenders really get some bang for their buck. At Pion, we're experts in helping brands to find, attract, engage, and convert students, so get in touch with us today to find out how you can drive growth and reach your goals!

Group of friends hanging out in Central London

One brand that's perfected their back to school marketing is Amazon, helping students stock up on essentials for as little as $5 in their seasonal sales. The AmazonBasics range offers students discounted prices on everything from homeware to backpacks, meaning there's something for everyone, whether a freshman kitting out their college room or new students hunting for the latest, stylish look.

Download the full snapshot now to hear how Bed, Bath & Beyond are using student discounts to attract shoppers.

3 Back to School trends you need to be aware of

So how are Gen Z students feeling about their return to education, and what are the key trends that brands and youth marketers need to be aware of?

1. Freshman week fatigue

The excitement of attending 'irl' Freshman fairs is beginning to wane for students, with attendance to these traditional college marketing fairs dipping significantly. The solution for those brands who want to catch the eye of students in their first few weeks at college? Prioritise online campaigns.

2. College is necessary for routine

Summer is a time for rest and relaxation, but Gen Z students know that this can't last forever! Whilst the chaos and spontaneity of summer is a welcome relief for many, come August, thousands of young people are ready and excited to get back to the rhythms of college life. As one Gen Zer we spoke to said: "I'm excited for a fresh though familiar start to my last year of college."

3. Tech continues to dominate

Gen Z is a generation of digital natives, meaning that tech is an absolute necessity for college students learning online. And this is reflected in the spending habits of students when terms begins, with many desperate to secure the latest gadgets. But, whilst necessary, these can also be expensive, something that's particularly difficult with rising inflation. By offering student discounts, brands can help young people to save their dollars whilst also earning their long-term loyalty.

So there you have it! The key tips, tricks, and trends ahead of the Back to School seasons.Want more like this? Check out the full 'Back to School 2023' snapshot now, to read more about the brands getting it right, the student priorities for the year ahead, and key stats about student spending habits.

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