Nicole Friedman/The Oregonian—Hundreds of Portland State University students boarded buses to CityTarget in downtown Portland Tuesday night to buy dorm-room essentials and hang out with friends at the store’s first Back to College Night.
More than 800 students — mostly freshmen — showed up, said store manager Vincson Green.
From 10 to 11 p.m., Target closed the store to regular customers and blasted music while employees directed students to bedding, flat-screen TVs and bins filled with $2 hangers.
Retailers expect a slump in this year’s back-to-school shopping season, which started in early July and continues through this month. The National Retail Federation projected that college students and their families would spend an average of $837, compared to $907 in 2012. In the Western U.S., the federation expected shoppers to spend just $798.
Reports that Wal-Mart was cutting back on new orders, thanks to slower-than-expected customer spending, sent a ripple of concern through the financial markets Wednesday, though Wal-Mart called the reports misleading. Some forecasts have already predicted a soft holiday shopping season for national retailers, too.
The National Retail Federation, though, did project higher back-to-college spending on dorm or apartment furnishings and food this year. College students and families are expected to spend $249 on furnishings, up from $214 last year, and $156 on food, up from $145.
Students and families can spend between $1,000 and $2,000 just to outfit dorm rooms or apartments, not including electronics, said Jeff Green, president of Phoenix-based retail consulting firm Jeff Green Partners.
At CityTarget late Tuesday, students stocked up on more groceries than the store had expected, Green said. “Big boxes of macaroni and cheese were actually sold out,” he said.
Target has held similar events across the country since the 1980s, but this was the first in the Portland area. CityTarget opened at Southwest 10th Avenue and Southwest Morrison Street — near Pioneer Courthouse Square — in July.
Back to College Night celebrates the “rite of passage” of moving away from home, said Anne Marie Luthro, principal of Beaverton-based retail consultant AML Insights. Retailers around the country have taken increasing steps in recent years to attract student dollars.
Students that go to Back to College Nights like the one in Portland will remember that store when they need to shop over the next four years or more, she said.
The Target event allowed employees to show off the store’s smartphone shopping apps, which Green hopes the students will continue to use.
Still, many students came to pick up free gift cards, not to buy furniture or big items.
“I already did my shopping before, so everything’s already decorated,” said Whitney Diggs, 18, who said she only needed to buy a hat.
Freshman Aimee Ritter, 18, said she came to buy items she hadn’t known she needed before getting to campus, like a wall hook for her keys. “I’ve been looking around at other kids’ dorms and getting ideas for what I should have in mind,” she said.
Target’s pharmacy and the Starbucks in the lobby both stayed open late for the event. Starbucks offered free samples of pumpkin bread, lemon bread, pumpkin spice lattes, salted caramel mochas and chocolate chai tea lattes.
Green said he hoped to lengthen the event next year and include all PSU students, not just freshmen. “They’re going to be one of our big draws,” he said of college students.