How can you tell you're not in college anymore?

Well, you tend to start every conversation with "When I was in college..." And the thought of hanging out  at a Target from 10 p.m. to  midnight doesn't seem particularly appealing.

Target, however, appears to have figured out something about today's college student. How else to explain the estimated 155,000 students around the country, including those from the University of Minnesota, Hamline University, and University of St. Thomas, who attended one of Target's Back-to-College After Hours Shopping Events?

Free transportation, music, and food helps. But it wasn't as though Target was giving away laptops and iPads. Students apparently received a small coupon book and a bottle of Vitamin water for their troubles.



"Back-to-College" is a bit misleading since the events are mostly for incoming freshman, to "welcome students to campus, help them meet new people and ease their transition to college life," the company says. "Shopping events also provide students the opportunity to stock up on everything they may need – including food, health and beauty supplies, laundry and kitchen essentials, as well as fashion and dorm furnishings."

In other words, what better way to bond with your fellow freshmen than to buy toilet paper, Ramen noodles, and toothpaste together?

More than a few of my colleagues found this kind of creepy. But score this as another marketing coup for Target.

Target would only get a marginal sales lift from such events, said Laura Gurski, head of the retail practice at A.T. Kearney, a management consulting firm. The real value, she says, is "to create loyalty with college students throughout the year so that they run to Target to buy their food."

Notice how she said food. We already know students will buy pillows and pens at Target. But to establish Target as an instinctive destination for groceries would be huge for the retailer, especially since Target has invested millions of dollars remodeling its stores to include its P-Fresh grocery format. Food, in fact, is driving the bulk of Target's same-store sales gains.

Okay, we know what Target gets out of these events. But students partying late night at discount store? That still puzzles me.

You know,  when I was in college....


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