Gen Z Insights

Your source for the latest Gen Z marketing trends and perspectives, presented by UNiDAYS.

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How Gen Zs take on back to school shopping

by Joni Sweet
    Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.

    Turn first-year students into lifetime fans

    Gen Z first-years are storming the back-to-campus retail scene with shopping carts at the ready. Be it homeware, tech, or beauty, they’re gearing up to out-buy...

    Brands can earn an A+ from students at every academic level by understanding their back-to-school needs.


    Summer’s in full swing, but students are already gearing up for the first day of school. They’re filling their shopping carts—both physical and digital—with all the supplies they’ll need for the academic year. Researchers predict record-level spending on school and college supplies this season, with college students predicted to shell out more than $975 each.

    Back-to-school shopping is the perfect opportunity to draw Gen Zs to your brand. Here are the Gen Z back-to-school shopping insights marketers need to know, as well as some tips on leveraging them to your brand’s advantage.

    Students are scouring for back-to-school deals

    While previous generations may have hit the big-box stores for all their back-to-school needs, today’s students are shopping at a mix of brick-and-mortar retailers and online shops. Department stores, discount stores and online stores are the top three places consecutively where families with K-12 students intend to do most of their shopping, while college students are focusing their shopping efforts online, followed by department stores and discount stores. While Gen Zs shopping preferences may vary based on age, one thing they have in common is a desire to snag deals on supplies. Smart brands already have plenty of back to school offers lined up, but providing additional perks and discounts to student shoppers is a great way to entice those who are spending their own discretionary income on supplies.

    Mobile shopping is also growing among back-to-school shoppers, up to 60 percent from 53 percent in 2018, according to a Deloitte survey. Meanwhile, shopping on a personal computer is slowly falling out of favor, with just 42 percent of back-to-school shoppers planning to use a desktop or laptop this year compared with last year’s 49 percent.

    These findings underline the importance of creating a mobile-optimized experience that takes the friction out of back-to-school retail. For example, Walmart has launched ‘School Supplies Lists’ where schools can post their supplies for students to shop easily, as well as ‘Buy the Room’ capabilities where shoppers can buy a whole dorm room look with one click. They’re also honing in on BOPIS and curbside pickup as a way to attract more back-to-school shoppers who prefer to shop on mobile but don’t want to pay for shipping.

    In fact, Gen Zs are largely united in their desire to avoid shipping costs. Research shows that the vast majority of students will take advantage of free shipping for their academic supplies. Furthermore, about half of students are waiting to score great deals on essential items before finishing their shopping. Brands that make their back-to-school products more affordable—and offer fast, free delivery—can score points with Gen Z students.

    Gen Zs spend their own money on back-to-school

    Gen Zs don’t rely on mom and dad for their entire back-to-school shopping allowance, let alone purchasing decisions. Research shows that teens plan to spend an average of $36.71 of their own money on school supplies—up from $30.88 a decade ago. Even preteens are digging deeper into their piggy banks, with plans to spend $26.40 on back-to-school shopping, $14.46 more than what preteens spent 10 years ago.

    Gen Z’s ownership over their back-to-school shopping presents opportunities for retailers. Rather than advertising to parents, target your seasonal marketing to Gen Z shoppers themselves.

    For inspiration, look at Amazon’s Prime Day promotions. It curated a shop brimming with dorm room decor, classroom essentials, new school clothes and must-have electronics, with the help of style influencer Ava Phillippe. Amazon also offered special deals exclusively for members of its Prime Student program and hosted a Prime Day concert with performances from popular Gen Z musicians in a bid to woo more Gen Z shoppers to their back-to-school season kickoff. Recruit relatable influencers to find fresh ways to make your brand speak authentically to Gen Zs and their academic needs this season.

    Top back-to-school items for Gen Z

    Which back-to-school items are Gen Z students planning to spend the most on this season? Families with K-12 students plan to drop the most money on clothing and accessories ($239.82 on average), followed by electronics ($203.44), shoes ($135.96) and supplies ($117.49). College students, on the other hand, expect to spend the most on electronics ($234.69), clothing and accessories ($148.54), dorm furnishings ($120.19) and food ($98.72). Brands in these categories would be wise to court Gen Z shoppers by putting a back-to-school spin on ads and promotions.

    Students are ready and willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on their educational needs this season. Finding ways to promote the products for each type of student can earn your brand an A+ with Gen Zs.

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      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.