Mitch Spolan

College students are a moving style target, but the good news for marketers is they can be influenced — even if you’re not an influencer.

A pair of surveys of college students by Chegg Inc., which connects students with text books and adds in promotional products, found retailers are still very much in the mix.

While friends are still the most powerful source of fashion ideas, with 61 percent of women surveyed citing them as an inspiration, retailers came in second with 47 percent. That ranked retailers, together with their web and mobile sites, ahead of Instagram (43 percent), influencers (28 percent) and celebrities (22 percent).

“Go you, that’s awesome,” said Mitch Spolan, executive vice president of marketing services at Chegg, as he presented the results to fashion executives. “The stuff you’re doing is actually working.”

And there are plenty of opportunities to catch the college crowd, especially since their style sense is evolving so fast.

Chegg’s research showed that about 66 percent of female college students have changed their style since high school and 50 percent of seniors have evolved their look since starting college.

But Gen Z, which Spolan pegged as extending up to college juniors, have different attitudes than their forebearers and want very much to be treated as individuals and be able to see themselves when brands present them looks.

When they know just what they want, Gen Z shoppers go to Amazon, but when they only know the type of product they’re looking for, they’ll turn to retailers, he said.

Asked what brands can do to catch this consumer when they do log in for a look, Spolan suggested presenting styles on a variety of models to sync up directly with a broader customer base.

“For every product you have, whether you’re showing that product online or in virtual reality, you really want to identify that there are all types of women who are using that product,” he said.

The students surveyed and interviewed by Chegg spoke passionately about wanting to connect with how the looks are presented.

“It’s almost like your retail site could become the influencer because you took that approach and said, ‘Look, I recognize that you are all unique…and I want to treat you as such,’” Spolan said. “So here’s…the same look on different models, a different type of student. I think that would go leaps and bounds.”

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