Tech Talks: What influences student purchases?

Posted: 23 Jan 2019 - 12:07
Tech Talks
We asked students what the most important factors were for them, when it comes to their tech.

Student tech: fashion statement, fingertip entertainment, or must-have study aid?

Well, all three actually, which is what makes it such an imperative market to understand for brands. Students – indeed Gen Z as a whole – are often categorised as ‘digital natives’, which broadly means that technology is second nature to them. And like all things that are second nature, one cannot go without it.


The bannerman for technology is Apple. A dominant force in the smartphone, tablet, and laptop market, Apple proved this year’s ‘favourite brand’ of all brands, not just technology. Despite being pitted against Nike, Primark, and Aldi, the expensive, luxury tech designer came out top. It also featured in the top three most mentioned brands, showing just how pervasive technology is to student life.

And for a demographic that switches brands so easily (almost half have changed supermarkets since starting university), loyalty in the technology sector is exceedingly high. Only 13% of students have deviated from their preferred brand, despite price being the primary reason for changing. Undoubtedly, there are cheaper alternatives to leading tech brands like Apple, but tech is quite capable of holding onto custom against the odds.


Almost every single one of the 5,300 students we surveyed this year told us they have a smartphone, but only 10% purchased one specifically for university. Of this 10%, which could be as high as 70,000 per year, half of them had started researching their smartphone choices by July – a full month before their university places were even confirmed.

Once they are, the purchases come thick and fast. 53% of all student smartphone purchases occur in August and September, but almost a third have already taken place by this point, meaning brands need to start the marketing machine far sooner than they might expect.

Price is clearly important for any student purchase, but smartphones were one of the few areas where it didn’t take top spot. Battery life was the most influential factor when choosing between smartphones, with 69% of students declaring this, compared to 60% voting for price, and 50% choosing camera specification. 

Brand, in fact, came in fifth place with just 42%. 

But no prizes for guessing the most popular one. While Apple’s 51% share dwarfs its nearest rival Samsung’s 18%, it does mean that almost half of student smartphones are not Apple – instead, they’re Huawei, Oneplus, Sony, LG, Motorola, etc. None of these are likely to threaten the giant individually, but there is a healthy amount of small players in the market to ensure Apple isn’t running away with the whole market.


Students are a little less prepared when it comes to laptops, presenting a big window of opportunity for brands and retailers in the months leading up to freshers’ week. While a similarly overwhelming majority of students (92%) own a laptop, almost 40% of them are investing in one specifically for university. And when you consider the average spend is £776, that’s a truly significant spend.

They might be less common in student inventories pre-university, but it’s certainly not through lack of intent. Almost 35% of students have already started researching their chosen laptops before June, with another 21% finding their preference before results day. As for purchasing, more than 65% of students make the investment in August and September, once university places are confirmed. Indeed, laptops were the third most popular choice when we asked students what their celebratory purchase was after receiving their results. What’s more, it also took the top spot when we asked students what they regretted not buying for university. Might there be a late window for brands and retailers to capitalise on post-freshers’ laptop purchases?

Apple’s crown is slightly tilted in the laptop market. Intact, but tilted. Just 34% of students purchased a MacBook for university – not a great deal more than HP’s 24% in second place. Lenovo, Acer, and Dell had between 5% and 10% ownership each too. The 66% of non-Apple laptops purchased by students represents a diversity not seen in the smartphone market.

But just like the smartphone market, battery life is most important, and price comes in a close second. 

Tablets and smart tech

Tablets don’t have the penetration of their more popular cousins, with just under half of all students owning one overall, and only 5% choosing to invest specifically for university – although the £561 average spend is surely still an attractive, albeit smaller, opportunity.

Smart technology is a rapidly growing market, particularly fitness trackers (more popular among women) and smart watches (more popular among men), owned by 41% and 30% of students respectively. Both of these wearables experienced an impressive growth in ownership compared to last year, as did voice controlled home assistants. 

Tech changes fast, but there are some staples that remain across the board:

  • Apple is commander in chief.
  • Nearly every student owns a smartphone.
  • Battery life is, largely, the most important factor.
  • Research starts as early as June, a long way before results day.
  • Purchase rate skyrockets in August and September.

The growth of smart/wearable tech bears watching, with drastic growth year-on-year that could potentially impact the stable popularity of smartphones and laptops. 

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.


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