SOURCE: fluent


November 25, 2013 11:00 ET

Fluent Unwraps College Students' 2013 Holiday Wish List

Life Experiences Trump Possessions, Discount Stores Win Their Wallets, and Cold Hard Cash Moves to the Top of the List

BOSTON, MA--(Marketwired - Nov 25, 2013) - While college students are typically among those family members requesting the biggest ticket items at the holidays, their holiday wish lists this year teem instead with items that offer experiential value or economic flexibility over brand-name goods. And in terms of students' gift-giving, large discount stores will be the big winners in drawing their gift shopping dollars this year, says College Millennial Consumer (CMC) marketing agency Fluent, based on a national survey of nearly 1,000 students released today.

Experiences over Brands
Asked to identify up to three of their most desired holiday gifts, 59% of students chose cash in their pockets, with the second most requested item being plane tickets at 30%. Casual wear and concert tickets were on 24% of student wish lists, while restaurant gift cards, dress wear, and the first tech item mentioned -- tablets -- each garnered 22%. Cars (21%) and then music/books/movies as well as laptops (17%) round out the top ten. By contrast, a Fluent 2011 survey found students most-wanted items to be clothing, then tablets, then cash as the top three.

"This year's wish lists are a mix of holiday hope and economic pragmatism," said Michael Carey, EVP of Fluent. "Students have big-ticket necessities, but know families will try to stretch the budget for one special gift. If a student asks for a few days away from the grind, to fly to visit someone special or to meet friends at a concert, families want to give them one opportunity to relax and reconnect. If they are asking for wardrobe items or even technology required by their schools, the pressure to deliver is even stronger."

View highlights of college students' top holiday wishes -- real or imagined -- here:

Great Expectations?
Just over half (55.4%) expect to receive their top item, while 27.8% say they won't. More than 70% of students say families are challenged economically. Only 3.6% say their families are doing well enough to justify splurges. A quarter of students expect immediate family members to spend no more than $100 total on them, with 34.5% estimating the total between $101 and $250. When adding in gifts from extended family, 39.2% still say the total will not be higher than $250, with 28% expecting the total value of gifts -- and this may include needed technology, fees or transportation covered by grandparents -- to be between $250 and $500.

Of those who do expect to receive top gifts, 42.5% say it's because they fit the family budget, with an additional 15% noting they will receive it primarily because the item is practical. Nearly 10% expect family members to pool resources for a large gift. 

'Tis Better to Give

Giving back to friends and loved ones on a limited budget encourages many students to make gifts or participate in gift swaps. When asked specifically about purchases for the holidays they report the following:

  • Some 76% plan to spend up to $250 on gifts and gift cards for all relatives.
  • Gifts for fellow students can be less pricey, with 65.7% planning to spend less than $100 total on friends.
  • Large discount stores are the top destination for CMC shoppers, both for brick-and-mortar (66.6%) and online (54.9%) for family gifts and nearly the same for friends' gifts. They also plan to shop department stores (53% brick-and-mortar, 27.5% online), specialty brands (22.8% in-store, 31.6% online) and 33.4% locally for family.
  • Items most purchased on those lower budgets for peers, primarily likely at large discount stores (63.5% in-store and 44% online) but also primarily in-store at department stores (34.6%) and specialty brands online (25.4%) will likely be:
    • Store gift cards (38%)
    • Music/movies/books (38%)
    • Accessories (35%)
    • Casual apparel (35%)
    • Restaurant gift cards (25%)
    • Coffee shop gift cards (23%)

"If I Could Have One Wish..."
Asked for a single dream wish of any kind, the top two answers involved travel, to experience a specific place or to share that experience with loved ones, or a wish most often for family but also for friends to be together, to be healthy, financially and physically safe, and to be happy. Dream wishes tied for second were economic security -- paying off loans topped the list -- and for large items, with most being practical and relating to transportation and items for school or work, to the luxurious or imaginative. Wishes that reflect the holiday spirit, locally and globally, also were prominent, along with student hopes their short-term and long-term goals will be met. Again, highlights of those top holiday wishes -- real or imagined -- can be seen here ( 

About Fluent
Specializing in "translating brands for the college world," Fluent works with clients who want to understand and engage College Millennial Consumers (CMCs) nationwide, both on- and off-campus. Formerly known as Campus Entertainment, the firm's exclusive affiliation with the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) allows clients insider access to nearly 1,000 colleges and universities allowing unparalleled access and insights to help sharpen brand relevance through integrated marketing solutions that create brand loyalties. Fluent capabilities include: campus activities and programs, College Millennial Consumer insights, digital and social media strategy and activations, and experiential programs. Clients have included major brands such as Microsoft, Macy's, PacSun, Skype, Zipcar, Sun Drop, Kotex, Dove and L'Oreal.

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