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Why Your Store Needs a Digital Marketing Strategy to Reach College Students

By collegemktgrp | May 20, 2021 | Brands/Advertisers

As we return to the post-pandemic “new normal,” it’s hard to tell exactly what’s in store for your brick-and-mortar business.

A new boom in business as the economy recovers? New customers you hadn’t seen before? A better social media presence after moving more marketing efforts to the digital front?

What we know for sure is that the landscape of shopping and marketing has shifted. People who used to prefer in-store shopping had to pivot to online shopping — especially college students. And data says most of them will stick to it even once the pandemic is over.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

You might be thinking now that vaccinations are out and students are returning to their normal lives, they’ll grow tired of online shopping.

But statistically speaking, the convenience of online shopping has made for even more dedicated virtual shoppers. Especially in the college populations.

Last year, 50% of college students made their purchases online. And around 50% of Gen Z online shoppers are known to impulse buy — leaving you a lot of opportunities to reach new customers (with the right approach).

Now that the pandemic is settling, around 62% of Gen Z plans on sticking to shopping online.

With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why a digital marketing strategy is crucial to promoting your brick-and-mortar store to college students.

Why miss out on such a big portion of your target audience when you have a chance to reach both digital and physical shoppers of the past?

Read on to see even more reasons why brick and mortar businesses need digital marketing to reach college students and their parents — now and into the future.

The Power of Social Media

Now that you’ve got the big picture, let’s dig a little deeper into why these stats remain so high despite the pandemic coming to an end.

We’ll start with one of the biggest factors: social media. 

We all know social media is a hit for Millennials. And although the landscape has changed for Gen Z — with less focus on Facebook and more on Instagram and TikTok, — college students still follow in Millennials’ footsteps.

And we don’t mean casually: a whopping 97% of Gen Z is shown to use social media for their online shopping.

There are a few different reasons for this. The main one being their love for community.

Gen Z (like many of us when we were younger) cares deeply about the opinions of their peers. Many members of Gen Z say they prefer shopping online because they can get recommendations and reviews from friends and influencers alike.

When they can research reviews and hear from sources they trust, it makes for a less risky purchase decision.

They also get a sense of inspiration from feeling solidarity with others who enjoy the same things they do.

By having an effective social media strategy, your brand is creating an online community — one where certain college students can find others who enjoy the same things they do.

And a sense of community creates an element of trust, which is an essential aspect of leading college students to become long-time fans.

Another important perk of online shopping via social media is accessibility. With features like “shop now” buttons on Instagram and Pinterest, and direct message marketing on Facebook, student shoppers can purchase something that appeals to them at the drop of a hat — hence those impulse buys we mentioned earlier.

Multiple Touch Points

While helping create a community for like-minded college students can help you gain the interest of long-term customers, there are other digital marketing features that can help ensure you maintain them.

Ad retargeting and cart abandonment prevention are two of the ways in which you can keep in touch with college students and their parents — even if they didn’t make a purchase right away.

Ad Retargeting

Just because a college student comes across one of your ads online and doesn’t make a purchase doesn’t mean the relationship has to end.

Maybe they didn’t have the time or budget to see it through on their first pass. With ad retargeting, you can make sure your products show up for people who have viewed them before, people with interests in similar products to yours, and more including:

  • College students who have searched for products you sell
  • Students and parents who have visited your website
  • College students who have browsed similar products
  • Students and parents in your area who are interested in supporting local

According to the “Rule of 7,” the average person needs to see a brand 7 times before they’ll make a purchase.

If you can reach 100 people 7 times instead of 700 people once, you’re bound to see better results. And thanks to ad retargeting, you can connect with potential customers 7 times in just one day!

Cart Abandonment

There’s not much you can do if a potential customer comes into your store, changes their mind on a product, and leaves.

But with a digital strategy and online shopping, you can change that with cart abandonment email campaigns.

Around 68% of virtual shopping carts are abandoned. That’s right: 2/3 of your potential customers are likely to change their minds before making a purchase.

There are a few ways to combat this. The first is to know why people abandon carts. Oftentimes, it’s one of the following reasons:

  • High shipping costs and other extra fees
  • They’re waiting to compare you to competitors
  • They got sidetracked
  • They’d like to buy the item in the future and don’t want to forget
  • Your checkout process is too complicated
  • They simply decided not to

Once you’ve addressed the reasons students and their parents are abandoning their carts, there are ways you can offer them another chance to purchase.

This is a great time to incorporate email marketing by creating an abandoned cart series.

An abandoned cart series can help determine and address all the needs listed above.

It meets buyers where they are in the purchase process by offering things like discounts for those who don’t like the shipping costs, gentle reminders for those who are simply distracted, or free gifts for those with higher cart values.

Online Financing

While college students may not have a ton of spending money to throw around, they still find ways to purchase things that excited them throughout the year. How are they managing this?

One way is through online financing, or “buy now, pay later” options. These financing options are less like the traditional credit card, and more like the modern-day layaway.

Many Gen Z shoppers are turning to apps like Afterpay and Klarna to help them make those impulse buys without the cringe-moment of a bank overdraft.

These apps make it so shoppers can pay a small deposit on the item they’re interested in, and then pay the rest by agreeing to a payment plan with automatic withdrawals.

College students in a temporary bind are much more likely to make a purchase when they know they can finish paying as soon as their next check comes in.

Reach College Parents

When marketing to college students, it’s important to remember where their money comes from. Sometimes, their parents are their most reliable source of extra income.

That means you should be marketing to college students’ parents, too. Leaving out parents in your digital marketing strategy could mean college students have no choice but to turn to other brands.

And it’s not just college students who have turned to online shopping during the pandemic. Parents are also forgoing in-person shopping and opting for online shopping.

Read our guide on how to market to college students’ parents >


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