Back-to-College: Shopping Plans & Preferences of 500 College Students

BTC-featured-image.jpgIt costs a lot to go to college.

No, I’m not talking about tuition and fees.

Last year the National Retail Federation projected total Back-to-College retail spending at over $43 billion. Compare this to the $25 billion consumers spent to send K-12 students back to school. For those keeping score, that comes to $900 per college shopper versus $630 per K-12 shopper.

What this means for companies catering to BTC shoppers…



What are the Buying Intentions, Shopping Preferences of College Students?


Back-to-College shoppers are just around the corner, and, to help you prepare, Field Agent recently surveyed over 500 college students ages 18-24.

The sample was split evenly between men and women, and consisted of individuals anticipating a variety of living arrangements for the fall: renting an apartment (33%), living with family/friends (24%), staying in a campus dormitory (18%), living in their own home (12%), renting a house (9%), and renting something other than an apartment or house (3%). Less than 1% in the sample plan to live in a sorority or fraternity house.    


You can view the complete results from this study by downloading our free 2016 Back-to-School Report, which now includes a BONUS Back-to-COLLEGE section, detailing the shopping preferences and behaviors of over 500 college students.


Below we offer a sampling of 7 timely insights from our BTC survey:




1. Among college students, Walmart, Amazon, and Target beat the campus bookstore as preferred destinations for school supplies

At 77%, Walmart is a fairly dominant choice among college students in search of school supplies. Amazon follows at 65% and Target at 59%. But all three retail giants get a bigger share of students’ school supply dollar than the campus bookstore, which 57% of survey respondents said they’ll patronize to buy pens, folders, and other school supplies.

See the full results by downloading our 2016 Back-to-School Report.


2. Bottled water—not PB&J—is found in more college living spaces than any other food or non-alcoholic beverage in our survey

We asked college students what foods, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages they’ll keep in their living spaces on a regular basis during the upcoming school year. Bottled water topped the list at 74%, echoing results recently published in Vending Times magazine, which found bottled water the “top beverage purchase among surveyed college students.”

Fresh fruit (71%), milk (69%), breakfast cereal (69%), and bread (67%) rounded out the top five.


3. 63% of college students in our survey said they’re either completely or very likely to purchase clothing and/or footwear for the start of fall classes

And only 2% said they’re not at all likely.

Back-to-College, it seems, is prime time for clothiers.

The full report details the clothing and footwear items college students say they expect to buy for BTC 2016.


Back-to-School Insights in this 2016 Report +BONUS INSIGHTS on Back-to-College Get 25 pages on: the influence of children on BTS purchases, retailers families consider go-to destinations, the role of online shopping.


4. Target edges Amazon and H&M to become premier clothing and footwear destination among college students

In our recent survey of 500 K-12 households, which you can read about in the 2016 Back-to-School Report, Target eclipsed all other retailers as the top choice for purchasing BTS clothing and footwear.

Apparently Target also performs well among college students, who, at 41%, identified the retailer as their preferred destination for BTC clothing and footwear. Amazon (38%), H&M (35%), Walmart (35%), and Forever 21 (35%) complete the top five.

Forever 21 took first place among female college students in our study, with more than half (59%) saying they’ll likely visit the retailer for BTC attire.


5. College students identify vodka as their alcoholic beverage of choice

College students were asked to identify which alcoholic beverages—among 20 choices, everything from craft beer to wine coolers— they expect to consume during the approaching school year.

In all, 38% of survey respondents said they’ll partake in vodka. At 31% and 30% respectively, rum and beer were also comparatively popular among college students.  


See also: Back-to-School Study Guide: How Companies Make an A+ with BTS Shoppers


6. Fully 46% of college students surveyed said student discounts are extremely influential to their purchase decisions throughout the school year

Do all those promotions—“10% off for college students”—really make a difference?

Our survey suggests they do.

73% said student discounts are either extremely or very influential when making purchase decisions. Indeed, 46% indicated they’re extremely influential.


7. In our survey, Pinterest distinguished itself as the top source of inspiration and guidance for college living spaces

We wondered: Where do college students find guidance and inspiration for decorating their living spaces?

Pinterest, Field Agent found, is highly influential, particularly among female students. More than half of students surveyed (51%) said they refer to Pinterest when making decorating decisions—a whopping 77% of females and 24% of males.

Indeed, Pinterest is more popular than even friends’ or other students’ advice/living spaces, which, in the overall survey, trailed the social media platform by 8 percentage points.  

Moral of the story: If you want to sell it to college students, get folks to “pin it.”


Get the Full Back-to-College Report. It’s Free.


We’ve included the full results from this survey of 500 college students as a BONUS to our 2016 Back-to-School Report, which also showcases the attitudes and shopping behavior of hundreds of K-12 families.

Inside the bonus Back-to-College section you’ll receive rich insights into:

  • The places college students visit to purchase school supplies, attire, alcohol, and even a quick bite to eat
  • The clothing, hygiene gear, electronics, and appliances college students plan to purchase for Back-to-College 2016
  • The foods and beverages college students say they stock in their living spaces
  • The role of online shopping during the BTC shopping season

And more. Download this free report…and make ready for purchase-minded BTS and BTC shoppers.


Back-to-School Insights in this 2016 Report +BONUS INSIGHTS on Back-to-College Get 25 pages on: the influence of children on BTS purchases, retailers families consider go-to destinations, the role of online shopping.