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Parents and educators aren’t the only ones with mixed emotions about the 2020 fall semester. Students are feeling it, too. UNiDAYS spoke to over 2,000 college-bound members of our Gen Z community panel. Read on to find out what they’ll be spending money on as they head into what’s arguably the most unusual academic year ever.
This year’s incoming U.S. college freshmen pulled the short straw when it came to high school graduation. For most, ceremonies to mark their matriculation were a mashup of well-intentioned diploma drive-thrus and small, socially distanced gatherings. To say it was an anti-climactic finish to the final four years of secondary school is an understatement.
Whether it’s a Zer’s first or final year of college, all students reported feeling generally anxious about a return to studying. Where we found the most difference among students, however, relates to what year they are in their college career.
Final-year college students are overly relieved to be entering their final year of college, whereas the majority of new students, (76%) in spite of the circumstances, feel excited.
For those familiar with the fun, the perks (freedom!) and the invaluable ‘character builders’ (ahem, incompatible roommates) that come from attending college, one can only hope that Gen Z is able to attend school for the 2020-21 academic year. With so much up in the air still, it’s hard to know what August will bring.
The good news for brands is that Gen Z is hopeful about college. According to a UNiDAYS survey:
Read on for a breakdown on how and when Gen Z plans to spend their money as they plan for heading off to school.
First-time college students are projected to spend $751MM on BTS items in preparation for the 2020-21 school year. Returning college students are slated to spend $4.25 billion.
Drilling down to the individual Z shopper, UNiDAYS found that, based on projected total BTS spend:
New college students will spend $2,300 each.
Returning students will spend nearly $1,200 each.
When UNiDAYS asked returning students the same question, they responded with less urgency but with still strong spending intentions:
The interest for BTS shopping is there, and so is the desire and action. This presents a big opportunity for brands, as you ramp up messaging and as you market, advertise, and communicate with Gen Z—particularly first-time students who are more likely to spend across every BTS category.
Now that brands know how much Gen Z will spend overall on BTS, in what categories will they spend it? UNiDAYS put that question to our members. Here’s what they had to say:
They may well be past the marker-sniffing phase, but that’s not keeping Gen Z students from stocking up on school supplies for the 2020 academic year:
Sometimes, it’s all about the fit. College is one of those times. Gen Z students are preparing to update their wardrobes for the 2020 school year—even if classes are online.
Students might be leaving home, but that doesn't mean they're going to give up their favorite entertainment and amenities, many of which they access via memberships and subscriptions.
The majority Gen Z students are stocking up before heading out.
It’s not that surprising to find that new students will spend quite a bit more on kitchen and bedroom items than returning students. Here's what to expect during BTS 2020:
It’s practically impossible for Zs to go to college without a solid tech arsenal and a stash of associated gadgets. So it's no surprise that they'll be spending big on BTS 2020.
Fortunately for brands, computers are a given, year after year. This segment offers a big opportunity among freshmen especially:
While laptops are preferred by students, some still plan on purchasing a desktop PC. UNiDAYS members’ total projected spend on desktop/PC for the new school year is $207 million.
In addition to laptops, 43% of returning students and nearly half of new students will also be buying a tablet and plan on spending upwards of $500 each. Half are buying a tablet for the first time, and 35% are upgrading.
UNiDAYS members’ total projected spend for tablets for the new school year is $379 million.
What can students do when they can’t mingle in person? Play video games with their friends, of course. Perhaps that’s why more than 1 in 4 of respondents said they were buying a new gaming console before heading off to school. Nearly half are upgrading, and 37% are buying a gaming console for the first time.
More than a third of them intend on spending between $501-$1000 each.
UNiDAYS members’ total projected spend for game consoles for the new school year is $122 million.
UNiDAYS members’ total projected spend for fitness trackers and wearables for the new school year is $70 million.
UNiDAYS members’ total projected spend on cameras for the new school year is $132 million.
UNiDAYS members’ total projected spend on e-readers for the new school year is $17 million.
New (school) year, new phone. It’s good news for device manufacturers and carriers.
UNiDAYS members’ total projected spend for smartphones/contracts for the new school year is $335 million (not including ongoing monthly payments/top-ups).
A lot of info to take in? We know. So let’s break it down:
This year, Gen Z college students are looking forward to the upcoming academic year—even if we can’t ignore the elephant in the room that is COVID-19. Nonetheless, brands should embrace Gen Z’s anticipation and purchasing intentions.
While all students (new and returning) merit specific attention from brands, first-year students represent a major opportunity in the back to school season.
Whether classes are online or in-person, these new students will have the same technology and furnishing needs that a ‘normal’ freshmen year on campus would require.
In a year that’s been especially hard for both college-bound and returning students, brands should acknowledge their efforts, triumphs, and strength as they prepare for this next life milestone. As always, Gen Z is keenly aware of how companies behave, so be mindful of the pressures they’re under and be authentic as you market to them in these ongoing times of uncertainty.
2020 is a year for the record books, and with the holidays behind us, it’s time to look forward and create new strategies for engaging Gen Z in 2021.
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