What Do Students In The UK Buy For University?

Using Social Media To Track New Uni Shopping Trends

Its that time of the year again. October is here and students are settling into the new school year. The beginning of the school year is a challenging time, not only for students and their families but also for the large world of retailers. They need to be ready in order to satisfy the market needs.
A recent UCAS’ End of Cycle Report shows that a total of 532,300 people entered UK higher education in 2015, marking an increase of 3.1% on the previous year and the highest number of new students ever recorded. Using our social intelligence platform, we analysed the conversation surrounding the kick-off of university courses in the UK, from May 2015 to August 2016. The idea was to focus on their purchases and purchasing habits to gain a deeper understanding of when and what students buy before going back to uni.


The graph above shows mentions volumes around ‘back to uni’ over time. As expected most of the conversation occurs between August and September, before the start of fall term. Conversation is certainly lower throughout the rest of the year, however, it remains constant except for a few small peaks in January that are most likely related to the inter-semester break.

By analysing the most popular words in the ‘back to uni’ conversation, we are also able to get a clearer idea of what students are more likely to buy.


In the graphs above we pinpoint some critical words such as ‘books’ and ‘clothes, indicating that textbooks and clothing are the priority purchases when starting school. When digging  deeper into these categories we discover that textbooks are definitely the biggest concern for students, and a source of negative feelings.


Conversations around books stem mostly from people’s outrage around how much they cost. Their prices are often depicted as ridiculous, and many students strongly refuse to buy them. This could be a warning sign to publishers that they need to start evaluating their prices, as university students state they would rather buy second-hand books or rely on the internet than spend the money on a new copy.

Clothes is also a huge topic, coming in a very close second to textbooks. While books is a more consistent trend during the whole year, clothes topic has a strong peak around August/September, just before the start of the first semester. The conversation around clothes for the remainder of the year, however, is very low. One reason for this could be that students would rather spend their money on uni and school supply-related items, such as books, etc. It also important to keep in mind that students have other big expenses, like rent and groceries, that they need to save money for.
Clothes are not a big concern for all students, though. As we can see in the graph below, 73% of clothes-related posts are from women. it is shopping after all, isn’t it?




Looking at Affinities™, we find another interesting insight. Along with television, music, and holiday preferences, the affinities graph shows a strong interest in Snapchat, an image messaging mobile application extremely popular among the younger generations. Uni students use Snapchat 43 times more than the average Twitter user. Could it be a different way for retailers to advertise products directed to a young audience?


On the other hand, from the graph shown here, we can also assume that uni students are not so much interested in health as they are in entertainment topics. Could this be changed? Maybe it is a new market ready to be exploited.

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