Life before freshers’ week – student spending habits before university

Posted: 15 Jan 2019 - 11:00
lifestyle survey
It all starts much earlier than you think. From celebratory purchases, to researching and stocking up, to those big ticket buys in preparation for September. When, where, and what are students spending before university?

With 2.2m students currently enrolled in UK universities, it’s no leap of faith to say that they play a big part in the economy. Research from the New Economics Foundation now states exactly how big: more than £80bn. Every year. This contribution also supports more than 800,000 jobs, enough to employ every single person in the city of Liverpool.
Therefore, students are a high priority focus for hundreds of brands and retailers. Targeted marketing becomes very noticeable around September, when students start flooding into their new towns and cities. But their spending starts long before freshers’ week. 
In their home towns and online, each student is spending almost £2,000 before they even step foot on campus.  
Prior preparation
In the course of our 2018 Student Lifestyle Survey, we spoke to thousands of students to find out exactly when and where they spend their money. On the topic of pre-uni outgoings, the most common expenditure was stationery: where 82% told us they invest in notebooks, pens, and accessories before they moved:

  • Stationery: 81%
  • Clothes and shoes: 74%
  • Books and study materials: 72%
  • Kitchenware: 63%
  • Homeware: 61%
  • Health and beauty: 52%
  • Travel cards: 42%
  • Printer: 17%
  • TV: 6%
  • Car: 4%
  • Bike: 4%

The average personal spend of students during this period was £686. However, their parents spent another £649, and other family members £724 – meaning a total of £2,059 per student spent before university.
Research and purchase
Students are researching their investments long before they make the purchase, many of them even before they know they’re definitely going to university. Before receiving their results, just under half of all UK students have started looking into what and where they’re going to spend their money.
Almost a quarter of students, in fact, are researching their purchases more than three months before results day. This is the window for brands to build their awareness and start to attract loyalty from future customers. Research rates peak in August when university places are confirmed, at around 30% of all students checking what’s on offer. And then they start to spend. 
Purchase rate is relatively stable (5% – 10% per month) before results day, rising to 33% and 42% in August and September respectively. With three quarters of student spending taking place in a two-month window, much of it before they even travel to their new homes, this is the most important retail window for brands targeting the student market. 
It’s also interesting to note that 29% of students regretted not purchasing something, in particular, before university. Of these, the most popular were:
1.    laptop or computer
2.    printer
3.    kitchenware
4.    clothes or shoes
5.    clothes dryer
6.    TV
7.    homeware
8.    books
9     stationery
10.   bedding
A cause for celebration
Despite all the activity in the build-up, results day is an important date in the calendar for student spending. 
Not only do students take this as their cue to start buying the important things, but they also let their wallets loose in celebration. There are some obvious inclusions, like nights out and meals with friends, but there are also overlaps where the purchase of a new laptop becomes a gift to themselves for their results. Does this mean that the real prominence of results day is in targeting those cooler prospects, who were not showing buying signals for a particular purchase? 
Here are the celebratory purchases ranked by popularity: 
1.    Clothes or shoes.
2.    Alcohol.
3.    Laptop or computer.
4.    Meal out.
5.    Food.
6.    Books or study materials.
7.    Night out.
8.    Make-up.
9.    Mobile phone.
10.   Takeaway.
The big one
The research and purchase of a laptop featured highly in all of our conversations with students during the Lifestyle Survey. Whether it was the main purchase they regretted not making, or one of the most popular celebratory purchases on results day, it’s a ‘must-have’ for the modern student.
(It’ll come as no surprise to anybody that Apple was the most popular brand, for laptops as well as smartphones and tablets, just as it was in last year’s survey.)
Almost every student (92%) has a laptop in their first year. Of these, 38% buy one specifically for their studies, meaning we can make a safe assumption that this purchase takes place around that peak Jul/Aug/Sep purchasing window. On average, each student spends £776 on their laptop; with half of them relying on their parents or guardians to contribute to this cost. 
As what is likely to be the most expensive single purchase for any student, they also take their research for laptops seriously. Almost 35% of them are comparing models before June, with another 21% researching in June and July, and another 24% around results day in August.
Verdict: The total spend of each pre-uni student is significant. Granted, a lot of that spend comes from the student’s family, but nonetheless each student is responsible for almost £2,000 in purchases before September of any given year. From laser printers to laptops, shoes to skincare, each item has its own place in the research and purchase cycle which needs to be understood. Groundwork laid down before June will pay dividends when students come looking for the best deals and brands, in-store and online.

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