In an economic downturn businesses, whatever their size, need to be more flexible and entrepreneurial when it comes to seeking out customers. That often means looking further afield and making their proposition relevant and appealing to a wider consumer group that they hadn't previously considered or identified.
As UK consumers continue to tighten their belts, brands need to find customers that are still spending. One such niche is international students in the UK – who on the whole come from economies, such as China and India that have not been ravaged by the global slowdown.
The UK is the second most popular destination, after the US, and last year we attracted over 600,000 students from all around the globe – who contributed £8.5 billion to the UK economy on top of their university fees, which for undergraduates are often three times more than what a home student pays.
These students offer a unique opportunity for all sorts of brands for a number of reasons. Firstly they are ‘virgin consumers’ and this unfamiliarity makes them easier to convert to loyal customers. They are also long term tourists because part of the reason for choosing to study abroad is for the experience, and as such they tend to spend considerably more on leisure, travel and treats for both themselves and their family and friends.
Whilst these students roughly make up a quarter of students in higher education, it is clear that even as a niche they are worth courting as their spending is exponentially higher than their UK peers.
Having a global outlook can help brands not only survive but flourish under the current climate. For example, international students are not only bona fide consumers in their own right with a high disposable income, but they are also the gatekeepers to an extended network of consumers, through their friends and family, who on average visit them 2.5 times during their studies.
These consumers spend generously on travel, leisure, clothes, luxury goods and gifts. In fact many retailers, such as Harrods and Selfridges, are reporting that there is a direct correlation between the nationalities that spend the most per head and the countries from which we attract most of our international students.
The benefits continue. By tapping into niche audiences brands can often extend their peak selling season, such as Christmas, but also prop up a sales throughout the year. For example Chinese students, who make up the largest percentage of overseas students in the UK, spend generously during Chinese New Year, which typically falls in late January or early February, and which is traditionally a quiet time for brands.
Yes, there is little doubt that consumer brands in the UK have a tough time ahead of them. However, there are consumers with the money and inclination to spend it, if you know where to look. The GB Mag
is the only magazine for international and EU students in the UK.