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Before hitting the books, students hit drug stores

Back-to-college merchandise is big business. “College students are starting to represent the most important segment of the back-to-school market,” said Perry James, an analyst with the NPD Group. The segment has grown, Perry said, since the weak job market has caused many college seniors to extend their education through graduate school.

Chain drug retailers are adding more merchandise to attract these consumers. “Drug stores have become a popular option for families shopping for back-to-college,” said Kathy Grannis, a National Retail Federation spokeswoman. NRF data from 2010 showed that 17% of college students planned to purchase their supplies at drug stores.

“The market for back-to-college has grown tremendously; students want more than a mini-refrigerator and an answering machine,” Grannis said. “Drug stores are expanding their merchandise to satisfy these young adults who have specific needs.”

It’s not unusual to find small appliances, such as tower fans, water filters, drip coffee makers and toaster ovens; decor items, such as throws, pillow bed rests and area rugs; and storage products on drug store shelves from July to September. Laptop accessories also are a crucial category.

Parents, long accustomed to opening their wallets for their kids, are willing to spend the money necessary to trick out Junior’s dorm room. That doesn’t mean they aren’t shopping around for the best deals. NRF data from 2010 revealed that more than half of parents said they were shopping for sales.

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