Online Shopping Trends On College Campuses

Online shopping is booming like never before. In fact, eMarketer predicts that online retail sales will grow 17.9% this year (higher than the 13.7% predicted in January 2021). And by 2024, eMarketer predicts ecommerce’s share of total retail sales will exceed 20%1.

Today’s college students are some of the key players in the online shopping boom. A whopping 96% have a smartphone and they spend more time on their phones than any other age group2.These Gen Z and millennial-aged young adults purchase everything from textbooks to food and groceries, clothing, electronics, dorm room supplies, and more online and via their mobile devices.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, college students were among the largest groups of online and mobile shoppers. Many higher education institutions were struggling to manage huge spikes in packages and deliveries on campus (particularly to students living in on-campus residence halls). The pandemic has only exacerbated this growing package problem. 

With college students doing more of their shopping online, many higher education institutions are having to deal with holiday-like package volume year-round. However, many college campus mail services centers at higher ed facilities were not designed for such high package volume.

By examining college student consumer trends as they relate to online shopping, higher education institutions can learn how to better manage high package volumes and provide a premium student experience while also saving valuable staff time and money.

Social Media Influences the Shopping Behaviors of College Students

College students – a mix of Gen Z and millennials – tout a whopping $143 billion buying power and make up about 40% of all consumers3. These younger generations are digitally connected, so it should come as no surprise that one of the biggest drivers of their shopping behavior is social media

In fact, a recent study reported that 90% of college students are on Instagram, 80% are on Snapchat, and half are on TikTok, and 50% of college students have made a purchase through Instagram4. Additionally, 93% of people ages 18-24 use YouTube at least once a week, and a majority of those use it more than once a day5. Most e-commerce marketers target college students with marketing, advertising, and branding via these social media and streaming platforms.

Overall, social media plays a major role in influencing the shopping behaviors of college students – more so than other generations. Higher education institutions should be prepared for a continuous influx of student packages and deliveries throughout the remainder of 2021 and beyond as more of today’s college students shop online and via their mobile devices.

Online Grocery Shopping is Booming

Online grocery shopping among today’s college students has been gaining popularity due to the pandemic. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only about 4% of grocery spending in the U.S. was online6. In 2020, it surged 54% to $95.82 billion – or 7.4% of the total U.S. grocery market. 

By the end of 2021, eMarketer predicts online grocery shopping will push past $100 billion in spending7. And another recent survey predicts that, by 2025, online grocery shopping will reach $250 billion and account for 21.5% of all grocery sales. Just last month, U.S. grocery delivery and pick-up sales totaled USD 5.7 billion (with peak sales at $7.2 billion in June)8,9.

College students are buying a larger volume of groceries online and ordering more frequently. In fact, a recent Harris Poll revealed that more than half (52%) of Americans claim they’ll purchase some of their groceries online. That same survey also reveals that, of those surveyed, 71% of Millennials and 55% of Gen Z report intent to do some of their grocery shopping online10.

This has a significant impact on  both public and private institutions for higher education. With many of today’s college students having to self-quarantine for 14 days once they return to campus or after positive cases have been identified, we expect that online grocery shopping among college students – and subsequent deliveries to student housing and other campus facilities – will continue to rise.  

COVID-19 is Driving Online Purchases

According to an study, students spend an average of $60 billion a year online on everyday items11. Additionally, Adobe noted that the first two months of 2021 saw $121 billion in e-commerce spending, a 34% increase year-over-year. If the e-commerce growth continues, online spending will reach $930 billion before the end of 2021 and reach its first trillion-dollar year in 202212.

“Last year was unlike anything this nation has ever seen before in terms of total online purchases and year-round, high package volumes,” stated Lori Torres, CEO and Founder of Parcel Pending by Quadient. “We expect this growth to continue, compounding on an even greater increase in online shopping. It is more important than ever for higher education institutions to invest in smart lockers and ensure they are providing a safe and contact-free way for their students to retrieve their deliveries at their convenience.”

Package volume was already at a record high prior to COVID-19; now, as the pandemic continues to change the college experience, it is intensifying campus package problems even further. 

Smart Lockers to the Rescue

It’s not too late for a university or college campus to prepare for year-round, holiday-like package volume. One quick and easy way to do so is by investing in smart lockers.

Smart lockers eliminate the chaos of on-campus mail delivery and package management by assuming all of the customer service responsibilities for mail and parcel delivery, notification, and retrieval. In fact, Parcel Pending by Quadient lockers offer 100% deliverability for online orders and packages, including grocery, medicine, and more can be delivered directly to parcel lockers, freeing up campus mail services staff to focus on other tasks. Parcel Pending university locker solutions also can reduce the labor resources demanded by package management by as much as a third.

With package lockers, university mail services no longer need to worry about crowded mail services lines or students rushing to collect their packages before the mail services center closes. Electronic lockers make it quick, easy, and convenient for a student to retrieve their packages at their convenience, simplifying the package delivery process for university staff, students, and couriers alike. 

And because students are able to pick-up their packages any time of the day without having to tie up mail services staff, campus mail operations will also experience fewer inquiries and complaints from students trying to locate their lost or stolen packages.

Contact-free Package Pick-Up

Online shopping has increased in light of COVID-19, and so too has consumer behavior and approval of contact-free package pick-up. In fact, 87% of consumers want a contact-free option when it comes to retrieving their packages and online orders13.

Smart lockers provide seamless package management for campus mail services staff and a contact-free way for students, faculty, administrators and teachers to obtain deliveries at their convenience. Locker systems are also applicable for campuses looking to modernize the campus shop experience. With Parcel Pending by Quadient smart lockers, a student can use their mobile device to open their corresponding locker door, thereby avoiding any contact with keypads, touchscreens, or package locker doors. 

Package locker solutions can also help higher education institutions adhere to state and local health guidelines by reducing contact with delivery drivers and couriers, thereby encouraging the safety of students and campus mail services staff. Instead of the numerous face-to-face interactions between delivery drivers and mail services staff, and then mail services staff and students, students are instead able to retrieve their packages from a self-service solution at any time of the day. 

Self-service lockers can be made available 24/7, which helps eliminate the need for students to congregate in lines and encourage social distancing in communal spaces. Campus mail services staff can then discourage drop-in traffic, asking a student to make an appointment for any in-person questions or assistance.

Campus Hub™: a Solution For More Than Just Packages

COVID-19 has accelerated smart technology innovations for many industries, but particularly so for higher education. It may no longer be enough for a smart locker to simply manage deliveries for the mailroom. Enter the Campus Hub™.

The Campus Hub distribution method is simple. Colleges and universities can leverage intelligent lockers as an exchange point for various items and goods with a built-in asset tracking software that ensures the long-term success of the investment. This helps to solve two major pain points plaguing higher education right now: the ability to do more with less staff, labor, and resources, and the need to create a revenue-generating module.

With the Campus Hub, colleges aren’t simply purchasing a product. Rather, they are building a platform for distributing goods and items via a self-service, smart locker system that leverages existing processes and provides a comprehensive chain of custody.

“By utilizing a Campus Hub concept, colleges and universities are proactively keeping students, staff and faculty safe by minimizing touchpoints, providing a contactless experience, and limiting human-to-human interactions,” added Christopher O’Brien, Executive Vice President at Parcel Pending by Quadient.

Here’s how the delivery using the secure locker system works:

  1. Packages arrive at the on-campus receiving area.
  2. Packages are sorted and coded for smart lockers according to their final on-campus destination.
  3. Packages are delivered to the appropriate locations on-campus and placed into a secure electronic locker.
  4. A student is automatically notified by email or text that a package has arrived and is given a code to  manually enter or scan a barcode for contact-free opening.
  5. The student retrieves the package at the lockers using their unique and secure access code.

Most importantly, the lockers can be placed wherever the institution usually makes deliveries or fulfills asset exchanges, ensuring ease of access for any student, staff, or faculty member.

Higher education institutions should invest in tech-forward solutions like smart parcel lockers to manage the daily influx of student packages and deliveries. Smart lockers solve a number of pain points for university operations, including saving valuable staff time, increasing campus safety by diminishing lost or stolen goods, reducing operating costs, and providing an enhanced student experience.

As the market leader, we’ve helped thousands of leading higher education institutions preserve their reputation and bottom line with contact-free intelligent parcel locker solutions. Let us take care of the packages so you can take care of your prospective students, current students, faculty, and staff. 

Discover how our university package lockers take care of your packages so you can take care of your students, faculty, and staff.


  1. eMarketer Editors. eMarketer. US ecommerce forecast revised upward, 18% growth expected in 2021. (2021, June 9).
  2. Pew Research Center. Mobile Fact Sheet. (2021, April 7).
  3. Cardador, Joe. Barkley. (2018). The Power of Gen Z Influence [Report]. Retrieved from:
  4. Herman, Alexa. National Retail Federation. Social media drives Gen Z shopping behavior. (2020, August 25).
  5. Jenkins, Ryan. Ryan Jenkins. (2018). Next Generation Engagement [Report]. Retrieved from:
  6. Repko, Melissa. CNBC. As coronavirus pandemic pushes more grocery shoppers online, stores struggle to keep up with demand. (2020, May 1).
  7. eMarketer Editors. eMarketer. In 2021, online grocery sales will surpass $100 billion. (2021, February 24).
  8. Albrecht, Chris. Spoon University. Study: Online Grocery to Hit $250B, Account for 21.5 Percent of Total Grocery Sales. (2020, September 17).
  9. Mitova, Teodora. SpendMeNot. 21+ Grocery Shopping Statistics for Every CUSTOMER in 2021. (2021, May 19).
  10. Maake, Katishi. Retail Brew. Exclusive: More Than Half of US Adults Say They’ll Buy Some Groceries Online Post-Pandemic. (2021, March 29).
  11. eCampus. Where Does All the Money Go? [Infographic]. (2011).
  12. Adobe Communications Team. Adobe. Adobe Digital Economy Index: COVID-19 Report. (2021, March 15).
  13. Shekel. (2020, April 7). 87% of Shoppers Prefer to Shop in Stores With Touchless or Robust Self-Checkout Options During COVID-19 Pandemic [Press release]. Retrieved from: