Schools offer a gadget-rich environment for generation Y

Coming back to school has never been so digitalized, with kids across developed markets equipped with the latest gadgets to help academic progress. This lucrative market is driving multiple fields, most notable EduTech and digital devices such as tablets and smartphones. Start-ups aiming specifically at the school market are booming, and majors such as Apple and Google are extremely active in the segment, both on a non-profit and commercial level. Corporate finance boutiques are closely monitoring the market, as contracts for nationwide school equipment and software are major revenue earners.

Marketers running focus groups in which they attempt to discuss the next big thing in apparel to move teens, find the conversation boomeranging back to the anticipated new iPhone model, and young shoppers pointing out the role of phones in internet clothes shopping or the fact that phones can be outfitted in a range of decorative covers to impress peers; a fashion statement in itself

New UK research from price comparison site uSwitch reports that the average school bag now contains £130 worth of devices.  Almost half of school children take a mobile phone to school, 26% own smartphones, 22% own feature phones – and 8% regularly take tablets. Almost one in 10 children has had gadgets stolen at school and 14 per cent have been bullied, in many cases due to not having the most up-to-date device.

Recently, gadget makers have introduced an array of new products that are designed to meet the demands of today’s tech-savvy student, sometimes rethinking lo-fi tools like writing devices and backpacks and at others, adding stylish elements to otherwise mundane technology items.

Thanks to tech culture and shopping savvy, US students are discovering cheaper routes to textbooks for college. US sites like Chegg, Bookrenter and Packback allow them to digitally buy or rent books. In the US, Federal law requires colleges to post lists of their required materials online before students arrive on campus. That allows for price comparisons with online stores.

Other companies challenge traditional textbooks. A site called Boundless is promoting a type of open-sourced approach toward teaching materials, selling compilations of freely available information from the public domain and offering them as “alternative” textbooks costing circa US$20.

Alongside responding to changes in the teenage buying landscape, retailers are managing a shifting back-to-school season. Its window has extended, often lasting past the beginning of the school year.  At the end of summer 2014, executives at US retailers such as Target, Macy’s and American Eagle, gave some encouraging signals in their quarterly earnings reports that the back-to-school season had started with a flourish, but some retail analysts remain cautious.

Says Kim Taylor of Ranku, a site that helps prospective students find online degree programmes: “The biggest issue in schools is they’re in denial that students are consumers.”

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