Shopping, especially for college women, is much, much more than a quick exchange of money and product. There’s a lot going on in the minds of millennials and Gen-Zers regarding their purchasing decisions. We chatted with a panel of college women at the Her Campus Media College Marketing Summit, and we got some great insight into the minds of four fashionable millennial women with some deeper thoughts about shopping. They shared with us the truth behind what they think of brands and, more importantly, how brands can convince them to make that sought-after purchase decision.
1. Their basic needs fulfilled
Millennials aren’t as picky as you might think. Sure, they obsess over thousand-dollar celebrity-designed shoes and frilly unicorn-themed drinks from Starbucks, but when it comes down to actually buying things, sometimes they just want something that’ll get the job done.
“I’m big on fast fashion,” says Emily, a freshman at Pace University, referring to retailers like H&M and Forever 21. “Not only do they have a lot of sales, but I feel like they really get the basic needs of a person. I’m big on very simple pieces that I can build my wardrobe off of, so when brands focus on that, that’s what really catches my eye.”
Moral of the story? Keep it simple. Provide college students what they truly need - a pair of jeans, a simple blazer, a working backpack. Because these items are non-negotiables in a college student’s book – so they may as well buy them from you.
2. A good social media presence
It’s an irrefutable fact that most college students are on social media. Like, all the time. And while in the past, brands could get away with keeping quiet and sticking to traditional marketing methods, that’s not so much the case these days.
“[Sephora] has a great internet presence,” says Emily from Pace University. “Their Instagram presence is really fun, and they have a great app. When a brand has a cool app, I’m always into that.”
Take brands like Taco Bell and Netflix, for example. No longer are they just taco-selling and entertainment-providing brands. They’re internet personalities, posting funny memes and responding to customers’ tweets. In order to win over college students, you’ll have to appeal to their keen sense of social media skill.
3. A lifestyle
Building off of that, brands are more than just products and services these days - they’re personalities and themes. aerie doesn’t just sell underwear, they sell body positivity. Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t just sell coffee, they sell East Coast culture. And SoulCycle doesn’t just sell spin classes, they sell a fitness phenomenon.
“A few of my favorite brands are Free People, Anthropologie, and Reformation,” says Rebecca, a junior at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I just feel like they capture a lifestyle.”
College women are looking for brands that don’t just sell great product, but that also provide an identity for their customer to align with. When these women pay for a service or purchase a product, they want it to contribute to their identity and personal branding.
College women – like almost everyone else – aren’t keen on surprises when it comes to their purchases. When they buy something, they want to know that it’s worth their time and money. Millennials are busy and they don’t yet have the disposable income that older generations have, so they need to know that they’re getting what they came for.
“I’m a really big fan of Topshop and Zara just because you know what you’re going to get when you go there,” says Isabel, a senior at New York University, “I have probably about five pairs of the same pants from them just because I know that they fit me and I know that their product is always going to be consistently great.”
College women don’t have the time or energy to go from shop to shop, trying to find the perfect fit and perfect item. They want a go-to brand that they can rely on for consistent quality and fit for them.
5. Deals and sales
Most college students aren’t swimming in cash. What with jacked-up textbook prices and the rising cost of college itself, most students have little left over to spend on non-necessities. So it’s easy to understand that whenever possible, they’re seeking out brands that give them the best deals.
“I’m a big sale shopper,” says Emily from Pace University, “I check my email all the time for sales that websites are having. And I’m a big online shopper in that way because when I see a sale, I’ll shop for that.” Some college women will even go so far as to change their habits in order to save the most money possible.
“Whenever there’s a sale at the end of seasons, it’s super important for me to buy things for the next year,” says Isabel from NYU. Even if trends are out-of-season at that point, it’s worth it to save a few bucks by planning ahead.
6. A social impact
Despite some of the stereotypes of young people these days, college students care. And when it comes to brands they’re buying from, they want them to care too.
“I’m really impacted by sustainability. I feel like it’s important and a big thing that a lot of brands should get involved with in their marketing,” says Rebecca from FIT. She refers to a content campaign that Free People has been running, which features parks. They’re selling National Park tees, donating $50,000 to the National Parks Foundation, and featuring some outdoorsy Instagram posts. “I think it’s really important to stay on top of [these social issues].”
College students want brands to think about the bigger picture. They want to feel connected with the world on a larger scale, so if a brand is offering a way to do that, college students just might buy in.
Megan Shuffleton is the Community Manager, Influencers & Ambassadors at Her Campus Media.