By  on August 11, 2011

As college and high school students head back to school, marketers can learn from their buying habits.

According to a new study by Ypulse Inc., an authority on teens, college students and young adults, students are embracing daily deal apps, such as Groupon and Living Social. Conducting 1,300 interviews with an online panel of U.S. high school and college students, the Ypulse report found that the vast majority have heard of the deal apps, and more than a third have used them. The survey revealed that 32 percent of the students have used Groupon; 21 percent have used Barcode Scanner; 18 percent have engaged in Living Social, and 10 percent have used Foursquare. The students said they like the apps because they feature discounts on stores and brands they already like (60 percent) and help them find out about deals (54 percent).

College students also said the apps are well suited to their needs. Twenty-one percent of those surveyed revealed they like these apps because they keep them informed about what’s going on in their community, which is particularly important if they’re living away from home for the first time. They’re also viewed as a great vehicle to get guys into shopping. Twenty-six percent of high school and college-aged students, in fact, said they like daily deal apps because they make shopping fun and seem more like a game. The daily deal apps, with limited-time deals that shoppers have to act on quickly, often compete with colleges’ and universities’ long-established deal networks for students that encourage them to support neighborhood businesses (ie., cheap movie tickets, deals on food, nearby clothing boutiques), the report said. “The challenge is to break through the clutter and entice them with the right products and services,” according to the report.

Michael Wood, senior vice president of TRU, a Chicago-based full-service research firm specializing in young people, agreed with the YPulse survey’s results, saying that in the last year it has also seen increased interest in these daily deal apps and communities. “I think the interfaces are simple and easy to use, and there is no obligation. You sign up and get a deal. Living Social provides things to do that are fun. There are social activities, dining experiences, things they have never been exposed to, and things were always too expensive. It almost allows them to have these experiences without feeling guilty.” He said his firm has also done studies that have shown that twentysomethings originally gravitated toward these sites, and now it’s aged down a bit.

The Ypulse survey also revealed fewer than 20 percent of college and high school students have ever used QR codes, the pixilated square graphics that show up on magazines, product packaging, books and ads. In fact, nearly two-thirds of students have no idea what they are, and some 6 percent replied that they’ve seen them but can’t figure out how to use them. “We think of teens and college students as being so tech savvy that they can figure out anything, but QR codes have them somewhat baffled,” said Melanie Shreffler, editor in chief of Ypulse.

Other findings in the Ypulse report reveal that Millennials are likely to use their mobile phones to compare products and prices, to save pictures of items for future research and to find deals from local businesses using apps. In fact, only 33 percent of students don’t use their phones when shopping. Multicultural students are the sweet spot for mobile shopping, according to the survey. “Black, Hispanic, and Asian students are less likely than white students to say they don’t use their phones for shopping,” according to the survey.

Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed use their cell phones to get discounts and coupons, a number expected to increase as more daily deal-oriented Web sites and companies enter the market, the report said. At present, college students, blacks and Hispanics are most likely to take advantage of receiving deals on their phones, according to the report. Some 23 percent get deals via discount codes delivered to their phones.

As for spending patterns of the Millennial generation, the survey showed that college-aged students spend more than high school-aged students on fashion.

Not surprisingly, the survey found that girls shop more often than guys, but guys spend more per shopping trip than girls do ($94 versus $81). As for monthly spending, girls top guys, $137 versus $99.

The Ypulse report also found that 27 percent of black students shop once a week or more often, compared with 17 percent of students overall. Black and Hispanic students spend the most money per trip, but Asian students spend the most per month. White students spend the least money on fashion, and are most likely to shop once or twice a season or less often, according to the report. Specifically, whites spend $81.41 per shopping trip; Asians spend $85.58; blacks spend $91.51, and Latinos spend the most at $98.20, according to the survey.

Another highlight of the survey is that 68 percent have followed or friended a brand or company on social media, and girls (75 percent) are more likely than guys (60 percent) to do so. The report showed that students are more likely to engage with brands on Facebook than Twitter, since the former is used by a significantly higher proportion of students. On average, students “like” or follow 10 brands on social media, with entertainment and apparel brands being the most popular categories they engage with in that space.

Overall, students are in favor of brands that engage in social media. Some 62 percent say a brand’s presence on social media shows it is interested in people their age, and 56 percent think social media is a good place to find out what’s happening with a brand or company.

Even though high-tech apps and social media are effective ways to engage with Millennial shoppers, the report concluded that brands and companies shouldn’t rule out e-mail and direct mail marketing. “Most students (64 percent) have received promotional messages via e-mail, and 30 percent receive direct mail about store sales. This is just another example of how more is more in targeting youth — brands and companies need to reach young people with tailored messages in a wide variety of ways to grab Millennials’ attention where and when they are amenable to marketing messages, regardless of whether that be via traditional or new media,” the report said.

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