UCAS Freshers Report reveals new student shopping trends for 2022

Thursday 3 March 2022, UCAS advice

UCAS Freshers Report reveals new student shopping trends for 2022

Dr Katie Bell, Chief Marketing Officer, UCAS

It’s time to think differently about consumer engagement with students.

We can finally talk about the 2022 Freshers Report, which has just been published after months of research and analysis. Today’s launch reveals insight gathered from more than 7,000 students, about what really makes them tick when it comes to spending and shopping. For brands and businesses looking to engage with this unique market, it’s a crucial read.

And they are extremely unique, especially compared to their predecessors. They are the Gen Z vanguard when it comes to maturity, spending, and influence, but they’ve also lived through a global pandemic. This year’s freshers have all but skipped the traditional precursor to higher education, arriving as adult consumers with a distinctive set of preferences, and an exceptional clarity of what they do and don’t want from the marketplace.

To engage with this high-demand audience, brands must understand their new characteristics. We explore these in-depth in the report, but let’s take a look at some of the big headlines that are going to make big differences:

  1. A solid set of new values, driving shopping decisions.
  2. A desire to get back to the high street, to engage with retailers.
  3. A new pace of life, with implications on spending.
  4. A growing tendency for localism, defining where they want to spend.
  5. An ethics-driven lifestyle, influencing who they give their money to.

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A solid set of new values, driving shopping decisions

There’s a changing of the guard when it comes to spending in UK youth culture. Where they were once characterised by their pursuit of more  ‘Kardashian Insta feeds’ and designer brand hauls, now the power of expressing their individualism is taking many in the opposite direction. They are thinking more before they act and a large part of that thought process is around the ethics of consumerism such as: is this a sustainable purchase? do I agree with this brand’s worldview? could I get better value for money elsewhere?

By being on the right side of these answers retailer brands such as ALDI, LIDL, Vinted, and eBay are all benefitting from a new student mindset.

 

A desire to get back to the high street, to engage with brands

Digital natives they may be, but 2 years of COVID has ignited a fire to down-screens and get back to real life. Millennials are firmly ensconced in one-click-checkouts and deliver-to-door, but you’ll find Gen Z freshers in libraries, supermarkets, bookshops, and, if available to them, back in lecture halls as soon as possible. This translates to an overwhelming desire for physical engagement and brand experience, as well as digital provision from brands.

 

A new pace of life, with implications on spending

One of the most surprising and delightful findings from this year’s report is the performance of Dunelm, which climbed +142 places in the brand rankings and broke into the Top 100 brand table for the first time. It is one of the many indicators that a large proportion of students are adopting a homelier lifestyle for the post-pandemic world: spending record amounts on homeware and kitchenware; making home-cooked meals for nights in; and leaning into the slower side of life. Many will be looking to engage with new brands which echo this new home-loving approach.

 

A growing tendency for localism, defining where they want to spend

Students don’t care how long a brand has been around, they can see through advertising campaigns, and they’re not influenced by celebrity or influencer endorsements anymore. Which means that new and/or small brands have found the playing field is much more level in this student-customer  marketplace: freshers are keen  to spend their money with local or independent retailers. But the desire to use their consumerism as a tool for good also extends far beyond their neighbourhoods, aligned with the Gen Z preference for female-owned, black-owned, and minority-owned stores. Messaging and positioning is crucial in a marketplace peppered by new preferences.

 

An ethics-driven lifestyle, influencing who they give their money to

Staying in the good books of students is crucial for youth-focussed brands, but there have been some slip-ups in 2022. We’ve seen the continuing break-up with fast fashion this year, but even brands like Amazon and Apple have felt the sting of a more ethics-driven consumer. If word gets out that you’re not treating your staff well, or your production processes are unsustainable then you are going to lose the student vote. Bringing ethics and values to the core of your communications will help students to understand your integrity and authenticity: a non-negotiable prerequisite for their custom.

 

To read these stories in full, along with 32 pages of analysis on student spends and trends, download the UCAS Freshers Report 2022.

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