How to engage student shoppers | DMA

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How to engage student shoppers


Lyndsey Best, Director at Altair Media says, “Contrary to popular belief, students are not poor. A discount might be attractive but it is not enough to engage them. Students are technologically savvy. They can swiftly navigate the online bargain bin and tune out the sales patter. Retailers need to engage with them on much more than cost (not to, can be damaging to a brand’s reputation). Brands should create seamless shopping experiences both on and offline that is relevant to students at every touch point on their consumer journey.”

With an expanding global student population of 200 million, and an estimated £20 billion student spend in the UK alone it is clear to see that the long-held myth that students are poor has well and truly been busted. Whilst retailers have long since understood the importance of the student market and have offered these Generation Z shoppers discounts via physical student cards, many are still to forge more lasting relationships with them both on and offline.

With so many retailers bombarding them with ads and discounts, many filter through the information overload by simply ignoring them or using ad blockers. So how do retailers ensure that they are rising above the noise to reach students in a meaningful and sustainable way?

Integrate digital and consumer retail strategies

Retailers need to consider the whole shopping journey for students, from their interaction with their brand on social media, through their website and apps, to the discount codes they access and their interactions in-store. None of these experiences should be looked at singularly. The truth is that students are not driven by a discount, or a snazzy looking website, or the chat on social media, or a cool looking shop alone, but put together and retailers have a serious offering for the savvy student. The student demographic has turned traditional marketing on its head; retailers need to consider every consumer touch point making it relevant and ensuring that they offer a seamless on and offline shopping experience for a generation that does not discriminate between the two.

Don’t abandon bricks-and-mortar stores

They might be die-hard netizens, but these digital natives still like to visit bricks-and-mortar stores. Generally, they buy fashion and beauty products in store and technological goods online. Altair Media’s survey of 126 students in the UK, revealed that most of them found browsing in shops the best way to discover new brands and inspire the next purchase and over 90% accessed online discount sites in the past month. Students will do their research and find the best deal. Indeed, once in the store, they might be checking out products on their smartphones or looking at price comparison sites, combining the on and offline shopping experience.

Create a unique experience

This generation takes in information instantaneously but equally, gets bored very quickly. It’s not that they have a short attention span, it just that they have an inbuilt filter. Getting past these filters, and winning students’ attention, will mean providing them with engaging and immediately beneficial experiences. One-way messaging alone will likely get drowned out in the noise. Give them an engaging experience and they will sit up and listen. Experiences should be something new and fresh that students will want to share with their peers. Retailers should consider partnering with third party companies to offer a more enhanced experience. Whatever it is, it needs to provide quick fulfilment, as students don't like to wait.

Furthermore, brands should be visually stimulating on and offline and generally cool. Videos and pictures are becoming more important than text for younger shoppers. Social media plays a central role in their lives and the expectation of constantly changing stories is becoming the norm. Brands must stay relevant and move fast as students are nimble to move on if not.

Create brand advocates on social media

This generation does not know a time without social media. On a personal level, they are full-time brand managers. They seek immediate validation and acceptance through social media as that is where all their peers are and where many of the important conversations happen. They are careful to create and manage an online image of themselves so expect the brands they buy from to do the same. Having no presence on social media or a lacklustre one will simply not attract students. They want to engage with a brand and feel like that brand understands what they want, how they feel and what their aspirations are, communicating directly to them. Although Facebook is still the most popular social media site overall, its appeal is declining to younger students (sixth formers) whilst Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Instagram has slowly been catching up over the last three years. Altair Media found those who shop most heavily for clothes see Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram as their primary social channel and those who shop most heavily for electronics use Twitter and Instagram as their primary social channels.

It is convenient to segment audiences into generational categories, but it is clear that older students will interact differently with social media than younger ones. We know that student shoppers are more inclined to consider the number of “likes” a product or service receives on social media, and the opinions of trusted bloggers than millennials are. However, Altair Media’s survey found that older students are more likely to use Twitter and talk about themselves than younger students. Retailers would be wise to engage with these “talkers” as they are most likely endorse their products and act as their brand advocates, whilst creating content for the younger students to share or like.

Older or younger, all students are feedback fanatics. They write reviews on retailer websites, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. They value feedback from their family and friends, suggesting that retailers no longer own the review process. Brands would be wise to collect shopper product testimonial videos as part of their PR efforts.

Look to the future

One of the most explicit differences between the Generation Z shopper and their predecessors is that they are eager to try new shopping models and new technologies to make shopping quicker and easier. They are open to shopping directly through social media channels, voice activated shopping, or monthly-curated subscription programs such as Birchbox or Trunkclub for their fashion, consumer electronics and health and beauty products. They exhibit greater interest in renting fashion, furnishings, home goods, consumer electronics and appliances. They are also far more ready to order these items (rented or purchased) using concierge services like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence platforms.

For the first time, many students are moving away from home and making their own purchasing decisions. Their spending power will only grow as they enter the job market. Retailers would be wise to keep up with them as they become loyal brand advocates with money in their pockets.

About Altair Media

We are Altair Media and we are an independent media agency that is here to make our clients famous to the people that matter.

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We are the antidote to the large agency networks, we will challenge you and we want you to challenge us. We are nimble and flexible to ensure we can keep up with your consumers or clients.

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Altair is privileged to work on some of the world’s greatest brands and some of the most exciting start-ups out there.

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