Now live! Our new Freshers Report reveals a reshuffle of student brand preferences…

Thursday 3 March 2022, UCAS advice

Now live! Our new Freshers Report reveals a reshuffle of student brand preferences…

Rebecca Hopwood, Head of Customer Growth, UCAS

It’s all change at the top. And the middle. And the bottom.

It’s another one to shake things up – we’ve just published this year’s revelation report, the UCAS 2022 Freshers Report. We spoke to more than 7,000 students to understand how the last year has affected the way they shop, spend, and interact with their favourite (and least favourite) brands.

Brand preference and perception has proved to be one of the most dramatic shifts in this year’s report. It’s nothing new for Gen Z to hold businesses to account – just look at corporate cancel culture or the industry fall out of BLM – but lots of brands have seen their younger markets stepping away in response to PR scandals and social investigations. It seems like 2022, the year which may signal a return to normal life, is the year where they can finally make themselves heard on the high street.

Sign up to receive your copy

Amazon takes most of the headlines this year. It climbed from 4th to 1st in overall popularity, and is the brand that students would miss most if it no longer existed. It ticks most of the boxes when it comes to what freshers want from their brands: product quality range, cost, convenience and reviews. But even the monolithic Amazon isn’t immune to the changes in student consumer behaviour – as it also features in the top 5 ‘most broken up with’ names this year; with students citing poor treatment of staff as a reason to boycott the brand.

Second only to Amazon’s popularity is Apple – which has held its own in 2nd place across the board. Unlike Amazon, Apple has been a consistent contender for the top spot since 2018 – bouncing between 1st and 2nd for four years running. Its role in remote learning, where technology became even more important during lockdowns and restrictions – is likely behind its stalwart status. And that’s not to mention the famous quality of its products – the most important attribute for students.

ALDI and LIDL have returned to the top 20 brands after an absence during the pandemic, highlighting that their offline-focused experience may prove a hindrance should anything like this happen again in future. At the other end of the spectrum, one of the fairytale stories of lockdown is the performance of Dunelm – the home furnishings store which climbed 142 places and broke into the top 100 brands for the first time. Coupled with the +10% student spend in homeware and kitchenware, likely in response to a growing appreciation, pride, and dependence on one’s home – brands connected to these new behaviours may see their fortunes entwined with trends and habits like never before.

ASOS, which is quickly becoming the ‘Amazon-for-clothes’ is also slowly making its way onto the podium. Climbing from Top 10 to Top 5 over four years, and one of the few fashion brands equally popular among male and female students, ASOS’s purely digital offer, convenience of next day delivery, and its wide (and ever growing) product range – is almost identical to that of Amazon’s. It would be interesting to see Amazon expand into fashion and whether it could conquer that market, like it has so many others. Or the impact of a giant like Primark (traditionally neck-and-neck with ASOS) going into e-commerce…

Just Eat is the biggest mover (+149 places up to 77th) along with KFC and Deliveroo (both +107 places to reach 100th). Whilst the obvious connection is food delivery – a staple of lockdown life – these brands also share that all-important digital convenience that we’re seeing crop up so much in the success stories.

When it comes to the uniting factor for the brands who have fallen the most, it’s not quite as simple as saying that they’re the opposite of the winners. Armani (-22 to 82nd), Gucci (-20 to 71st), Tommy Hilfiger (-20 to 43rd), Hugo Boss (-17 to 77th), Ralph Lauren (-15 to 60th), and Jack Wills (-14 to 93rd) make up a third of our biggest fallers list. As designer clothing labels, it’s unlikely that they’re suffering from a lack of that all-important quality or product range – but rather that they’re ticking the boxes of what students now say matter to them least:

  • How long a brand has been present for: 14%

  • A brand’s advertising and marketing: 13%
  • Celebrity and influencer endorsements: 6%

Student consumers are clearly more nuanced than ever. They hold their values and opinions tightly and are willing to walk away from brands which don’t mirror them. In order to lean into this complex market, you’re going to have to make some changes.


For a breakdown of all the brand movements this year, along with 32 pages of further analysis on student spends and trends, download the UCAS Freshers Report 2022.

Get your copy today

To find out how UCAS can help you capitalise on the insight from this report, get in touch with us: