NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. electronics chains Best Buy (BBY.N) and RadioShack RSH.N have spent years trying to court students of all ages in the second-biggest selling season of the year, but this semester they are skipping high school and going straight to college.
The two retailers are focusing this back-to-school year mostly on older students heading to college who are more likely to spend money on pricey items such as laptops and tablets.
“We found out that really for us, it is the student that is just finishing high school and about to go into college that really, really matters,” Drew Panayiotou, Best Buy’s senior vice president of U.S. marketing, told Reuters. “We actually decided that we are not going to think about back-to-school, we are going to think about back-to-college.”
This shift comes a year after Best Buy and other retailers reported weak sales of technology products during the back-to-school shopping season, which is second only to the Christmas holiday season in importance for electronics retailers.
The new strategy means more marketing will be focused around college campuses as students gear up for the August and September start of classes.
Best Buy’s marketing campaign features real students who used technology available to them to invent something while they were still in college - much like Facebook Inc (FB.O) Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg. The company calls them “dorm-room innovators,” Panayiotou said.
Best Buy will launch a Facebook application that will allow students to create a dorm-room wish list.
It will also have “buy boards” on 30 big university campuses, which are essentially billboards with product photos and codes that students can scan, using a smartphone. This will let students quickly order items and have them delivered to the campus or to a nearby Best Buy store.
“We are taking the store now to the campus,” Panayiotou said.
Best Buy could use a back-to-school sales boost this year. The world’s largest consumer electronics chain has posted declines in same-store sales in seven of the last eight quarters and is also searching for a new CEO.
While analysts said the strategy by Best Buy and RadioShack to focus on college students who buy more expensive items made sense, they questioned how successful that tactic could be with other retailers such as Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) Apple stores and online retailers like Amazon.com (AMZN.O) already doing the same.
“It’s certainly the right market. That’s certainly the area they need to focus on, but it’s a competitive market at the same time,” Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said.
In fact, college students looking to save money may be more likely to price shop on the Internet instead of purchasing at Best Buy.
“If you are a college kid, you are looking for the lowest price and you are going to find it online,” Brian Sozzi, chief equities strategist at NBG Productions, said.
RadioShack plans to play the convenience card to convince college students to choose its products over mass merchants including Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) and office supply stores.
Paul Okimoto, vice president of marketing at RadioShack, called back-to-college shoppers the company’s “sweet spot.”
Last year, trade group National Retail Federation estimated “back-to-campus” shoppers spent about $46 billion during the period, with about 25 percent of that on consumer electronics, Okimoto said.
Based on that research, the retailer has decided to focus on 700 campuses that have a RadioShack store located within three miles. The company also plans to roll out special offers via social media targeting 18 high-profile campus locations in Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
RadioShack is offering college students and faculty 10 percent off on an array of products from phone chargers to WiFi routers to headphones, adding that the company was still in the final stages of planning other deals.
“We know that our consumers are deal conscious and coupon focused,” Okimoto said.
Reporting By Dhanya Skariachan. Additional reporting by Brad Dorfman.; Editing by Maureen Bavdek