How today's college students shop online

Here at Student Beans, we make it a priority to keep up-to-date with the latest student consumer trends, including how students like to shop and what brands can do to maximise their student sales.

Our research has found that students like to shop online, in-store, and sometimes a combination of the two. 92% of the students we surveyed for our Student Shopping Report shop online, and 69% do so at least once a month.

We found that students shop online more often as they get older. 47% of students age 20 or over shop online at least once a week, compared to 34% of students age 18-19. This correlates with a raise in income, as 40% of students aged 20-25 have jobs, compared to 32% of those 18-19.

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The stereotype may be that women shop more than men, but that’s not true among students. 72% of the males surveyed shop online at least once a month, compared to 67% of females. This suggests the advent of online shopping has removed the gender gap. We did, however, see a clear disparity in the categories students are shopping for. 69% of females had bought clothes and accessories in the past month, compared to 47% of males. Conversely, 52% of males had made tech and mobile purchases in the past month, compared to 24% of females.

Top online shopping categories

(Based on purchases in the past month)

  1. Clothes & accessories 58%

  2. Tech & mobile 37%

  3. Health & beauty 33%

  4. Study supplies & stationery 21%

  5. Books, magazines & news 20%

With a busy lifestyle of studying, working and socialising, students don’t always have time to visit physical stores, which makes online shopping more convenient. It also means they can find a variety of brands that aren’t available in smaller college towns. Many students prefer to order online, try items at home then return them if they’re not right. In fact, 77% would buy online from one retailer instead of another if they offer free returns. Despite the rise of fashion ecommerce, some students are still cautious of buying clothes online in case they don’t fit, so this option makes them feel more comfortable.

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The students we spoke to often leave items in the cart for later, using it like a wishlist. They are savvy about ways to save money, so will wait for sales around specific times of year such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, back to school and end of season. They also know to shop around before making a purchase. For example, they take photos of items in store to research online later, or look on their phone to see if it’s cheaper elsewhere. These digital natives are comfortable making purchases on their phone, as long as they perceive the retailer as trustworthy.

A subject we’re often asked about by our brand partners is online shopping basket abandonment and how to prevent it, so we asked 500 students to rank which factors are most likely to make them abandon an order.

Causes of shopping basket abandonment

  1. Delivery is too expensive

  2. The item is too expensive

  3. Found a better price elsewhere

  4. Changed mind

  5. Delivery takes too long

Our focus group told us delivery costs put them off completing a purchase, with one even proclaiming: “I won't buy something if it isn't free shipping.” However, if there’s a minimum spend to get free shipping it encourages them to buy more, or group together purchases to reach the threshold. Membership schemes such as Amazon Prime and ASOS Premier are great examples of how retailers have used the fear of delivery fees to encourage brand loyalty and commitment.

Read more about college students’ views on shopping, brands, media and much more in our Student Shopping Report, available here.