New Study Paints a Clearer Picture of the Future of Retail

October 11, 2017




As new, younger consumers enter the customer base, bringing with them different ideas about the kinds of shopping experiences they want, the retail landscape has become even harder to predict. The Future of Retail, a new study conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insightssm, has uncovered a wealth of information on how students view shopping, budgeting and the purchasing decisions they make concerning products and services — offering some clues to retail’s future.


Save or Spend

Of those surveyed, 77 percent of students somewhat or strongly agreed that they ‘generally make good spending decisions,’ viewing themselves as ‘savers’ with good spending habits. Over three-quarters (78%) of respondents also reported they would more likely save for tomorrow than spend for short term pleasure today. However, their reported actions are often in contradiction to this view. Overall, just over half of the respondents polled admitted to spending even when they knew they shouldn’t. “I think it can be hard,” says recent college graduate, Norah McGrath. “When you’re in college, you want to spend on clothes — or maybe a better phone — things you can’t always afford,” she says. While reliant on her parents for more expensive items, like many respondents in the survey, McGrath agreed that she could be susceptible to emotional spending and impulse buys. Food, in particular, appears to be a flash point for impulse purchase with 72 percent of students saying they often buy on impulse or ‘just because.’


77% of students somewhat or strongly agreed that they ‘generally make good spending decisions,’ viewing themselves as ‘savers’ with good spending habits.


Mood also plays an important role in spending, with increased purchasing reported during positive moods, along with a tendency for impulse buying — most commonly associated with food, hobbies and clothing. “Our research points to a new generation of consumers who build their purchasing decisions around the products and services they most value,” says Lisa Malat, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Barnes & Noble College. “It’s especially significant that, for this generation, education is considered a separate category from other spending, and is viewed more as an investment compared to other goods and services,” she notes.


Students also put their educational expenditures in a different category from other spending such as clothing, accessories or even experiences, with 24% saying it’s an investment, a required necessity (19%) or more important than other spending (19%). “I’m willing to invest far more in education because it’ll pay off more in the long run,” said one survey respondent. McGrath admits that much of the appeal for selecting her hometown college was financially-driven. “Now, I regret commuting every day because I think I did miss out a lot on what was going on at campus,” she says, adding, “but I knew it would save a lot of money — and I was also able to keep my part-time job.”


The Future of Retail study also uncovered some surprising findings concerning the actual path to purchase for today’s young consumers. About half of students (47%) combine online and in-store shopping for a single purchase, with online shopping liked for its easy comparability across retailers, lack of crowds and no requirement to leave home. But in-person shopping at a brick-in-mortar store is still preferred by this generation of ‘digital natives.’


Shaping New Kinds of Shopping Experiences

Building on the Value of College study that Barnes & Noble College published with MONEY magazine last year, this latest research paints a detailed picture of a new generation of students who are affected by retail trends, yet have strong views on what interests them as consumers, and how this key demographic likes to shop. Understanding students as they transition through their college experiences into adult life, and can afford larger lifestyle purchases, will influence the creation of new and different kinds of shopping experiences — and undoubtedly shape the future of retail.


Over the next several months, NEXT will be featuring more details from the Future of Retail survey, including students’ path to purchase, changing attitudes and emotions associated with shopping, their spending strategies and their attitudes towards education spending.



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