For retailers, the back-to-school shopping season is the second-most-important period in the year behind Christmas, and college students drive most of the spending. The National Retail Federation last week estimated that back-to-college spending will hit $45.8 billion, nearly two-thirds of the entire season. Though the Retail Federation says fewer students will live in dorms this upcoming school year, about 42 percent of families will spend an average of $104.76 on new bedding, small refrigerators and microwaves, up from $100.27 last year.
Target, of course, wants to increase its share of this market. The retailer has added 200 products to the seasonal back-to-school sections in more than half of its U.S. stores, including items designed to appeal to college students on both an aesthetic and functional level: neon-colored bedding and microwavable bowls that prevent accidental spillage of those life-sustaining ramen noodles.
But Target is also after something much more elusive: lifetime loyalty.
“It’s really important for us to build that relationship with these future guests early on,” said Gomez, a former top marketing executive with MillerCoors. “If you get them into Target and understand the brand and what we have to offer, we can create guests for life.
“When you are going off to college, it’s sort of a new life stage,” he said. “It’s the first time you are moving out, you’re on your own, and moving into a dorm or first apartment. As a brand, it’s important to be there for the guest as they are shifting to a new life stage.”
But converting millennials into long-term Target shoppers requires more than just a quirky slogan or a free product. Research shows that millennials are more immune to traditional marketing tactics. They watch far less television than other generations, instead relying on peer recommendations and social-media content to purchase something on their smartphones and tablets.