Retailers Trying To Lure College Customers Now So They’ll Become Lifelong Shoppers

Image courtesy of Ann Fisher

Often when a shopper is loyal to a brand, product, or company, it’s simply because they have a long history with it. That’s why retailers are trying to hook college-age students now — even before full-time jobs bring them a disposable income — in the hopes that they’ll become lifelong shoppers.

This is the perfect season for those efforts, as parents and students are shelling out the big bucks on back-to-college supplies for their dorm rooms and apartments: according to a National Retail Federation survey cited by the Chicago Tribune, the average family with college-age kids expects to spend $888.71 on getting ready to go back to school. Half of that goes towards electronics, apparel, and dorm furnishings.

“Especially when it’s freshmen going off to college for the first time, or a sophomore or junior establishing their first apartment, it’s a big chunk of change,” Retail Systems Research analyst Nikki Baird said.

That means retailers have a chance to make money, sure, but it also means they can get a foot in the door in the hopes that these kids will become repeat customers long after they have no need of shower shoes and pallets of Easy Mac. It’s also a good time to grab’em because college students might not have done much household shopping yet.

Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Best Buy have graduation wish lists that work like wedding registries, the Tribune notes. Best Buy has students-only deals year-round, and Target offers help from “college stylists” in a series of YouTube videos with dorm design advice.

Target also has plans for special small-format stores near college campuses. and hosts after-hours shopping parties at stores near 86 campuses in the begging of the school year.

Even Amazon is in the game, offering six-month free trials of its Prime program, and building on-campus stores where students can drop off and pick up packages.

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It’s still unclear if any of these efforts will pay off, but the back-to-school season is the best time to reach a lot of young people all at once to test ideas, NRF’s Baird told the Tribune.

“It’s 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.

Big retailers trying to turn college kids into lifelong customers [Chicago Tribune]