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Edhance.com Lures Students With Discounts

Web site Edhance, led by a young Norwegian businessman, links retailers to students.

BOSTON — As a marketing tool, student discounts have been great in theory — but difficult to standardize and draw conclusions from because they often relied on a clerk informally checking a college ID.

Edhance.com, a Web site where members register up to five credit and debit cards and have their student status directly verified through university database partnerships, hopes to automate the process — and at the same time provide retailers with valuable insight into the buying patterns of an all-important demographic. The estimated 13.6 million U.S. college students, ages 18 to 30, represent about $53 billion in discretionary spending, according to the 2008 Alloy Media + Marketing College Explorer study.

Edhance, in beta test mode on this city’s college populace, has partnered with Apple, which is offering an additional 4 percent discount (on top of the 10 percent standard educational discount) to students who register. The site is also processing discounts back to students through affiliate programs with puma.com, target.com, Drugstore.com, skechers.com, avon.com, shopecko.com and Ice.com, a fine jewelry Web site. Discounts average about 10 percent.

According to Edhance president Bjorn Larsen, the company has inked an agreement with a financial services company to automatically enroll more than 700,000 student credit card holders at back-to-school. Edhance has been quietly marketing itself through Twitter posts, but expects to go live in August. Every six months, users will be vetted to ensure they’re still students.

“It changes the game as a merchant if you know there are only students involved in the program,” said Larsen. “The brands get amazing analytics back from us. They know which universities have students shopping them most heavily and what [retail] locations they are visiting.”

Renier Fee, marketing manager for shopecko.com, is using Edhance to test the waters for a potential expansion of Ecko’s limited edition college clothing line, now designed solely around designer Mark Ecko’s alma mater, Rutgers University.

“There are deal and coupon sites out there, but there wasn’t a central, student-focused location,” Fee noted. “We can see results coming though from the site and as back-to-school approaches, we can make our discount more aggressive.”

Company founder Larsen, 27, isn’t too far from his own student days in Norway, during which he created the company’s first database of student discounts and sold it to StudentUniverse.com, a U.S. student discount travel site. Now he and staffers work out of Cambridge’s Kendall Square, down the street from MIT in the heart of the city’s entrepreneurial community.

Bringing greater efficiency and transparency to student discounts make sense, said Larsen.

“Here, you have a closed audience of tomorrow’s shoppers,” he said. “That’s why retailers like Apple, J. Crew, The Limited and Club Monaco have given the deepest discounts to students for years. We’re just trying to make it easier for everybody.”