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A store on a college campus is bound to have many uses, but what is the main use of a store like Target on the University of Cincinnati (UC) campus? As a college student, I had many initial assumptions about what these uses might be. I use a store like Target to buy groceries, toiletries, and other household items. However, Target sells much more than just these common essentials. The store also sells clothing and household appliances and accessories. Even though Target sells a variety of products, I still expect a majority of college students to be shopping for groceries. One is able to analyze the priorities of a person based on their behaviors and choices while shopping. I am interested in examining the priorities of college students on this basis.

Background Information:

There are many factors that determine one’s purchases. Some of these influences include price and preference. Simone French and his team studied household differences in food purchases based upon household income. Important takeaways from the research include that “higher income households purchased significantly more fruits and vegetables compared with lower income households” (French et al, 2010, p. 5). Additionally, the income level of a person can affect the quality and types of food that they choose to buy (French et al, 2010 p. 7). This is important to note because a large proportion of students come from low-income families. At UC, 44% of students are receiving federal Pell Grants specific for low-income students (UC Magazine, 2020, para. 4). Therefore, a student’s economic status plays a role in what they purchase at Target.

Similar to income, the specific price level of stores also affects purchases. Pablo Monsivais and Rachel Pechey researched supermarket choice and shopping behavior in correlation with economic status. Households “using low-price (and not high-price) supermarkets purchased significantly lower percentages of energy from fruit and vegetables and higher percentages of energy from less- healthy foods/beverages” (Monsivais & Pechley, 2015, p. 868). This research applies to my observations as many college students come from low-income families.

Observational Data and Analysis:

Observation 1:

As I began my observations at Target, I noticed the people who shopped at the location. All of the customers and workers looked relatively young from eighteen to twenty-four years old. A majority of these shoppers were wearing UC spirit wear. Therefore, I concluded that most of the customers in Target were current students at UC.

The shoppers were very respectful of the current health guidelines due to the global pandemic. Everyone wore masks and social distanced well by keeping six feet between themselves and others. I felt safe during my time at Target due to the enforced rules and respect of customers.

Lastly, I observed the purchases of the shoppers. I was able to spot that a majority of students were buying groceries and goods like paper towels and toilet paper. I interviewed a current junior at UC. I learned that she was at Target to restock her groceries as she lives in an off-campus apartment. She explained that she comes to Target about once a week and that it is convenient because she lives a three-minute walk away. Lastly, she spoke about how her financial situation holds her back from buying all the goods she wants.

Observation 2:

I was intrigued to undergo and analyze my second observation. Similar to my first experience, all customers appeared to be students. My first new observation was a man, who looked like a college student, being hostile towards the enforced guidelines. He tried to enter without a mask. The employees respectfully told the man that he would be unable to enter. He continually tried to enter but ended up leaving frustrated. Although a majority of people follow the rules easily, there are outliers who seem to think they are above the rules.

My next observation involved the items people were buying. Common items in purchases included bread, fruit, and chips. Chips seem like a normal purchase of a college student because they have a long shelf life and are cheap. However, fruit was surprising because it is usually more expensive and does not last as long. There is a mixture between healthy and unhealthy and short- and long-lasting products in a student’s shopping cart.

Lastly, I interviewed a male sophomore at UC. I learned that he comes to Target about twice a week to restock on groceries. He explained that that he commonly buys snacks like Doritos and Lay’s potato chips. Additionally, he buys drinks like water bottles and soda. However, he rarely buys fresh products as he is not interested in them. Students are not necessarily concerned about eating nutritious foods and maintaining a healthy diet.


Early into my research, I observed that a majority of shoppers were college students. This makes sense because this Target is adjacent to UC. Most students demonstrated respectful behaviors while shopping. They wore masks and socially distanced following the enforced rules. I also witnessed an outlier whose behaviors displayed his disrespect of the guidelines. Overall, most behaviors portrayed that college students prioritize staying safe and keeping others safe.

My next conclusions came from the specific items that customers purchased. Through talking to individuals shopping, I concluded that money is a prominent issue when shopping. However, money will not stop college students from spending a little more in order to buy fresh products. Some students still prioritize paying more to have healthy foods.

I believe one of the most important ideas is that many college students come from low-income families. Their own shopping habits are affected by socioeconomic status. Therefore, students may not be able to buy fresh food as they prioritize buying food with a longer shelf-life. These points affect the shopping habits of college students. This data does not apply to all students, but the general consensus is that shopping habits, as evidenced by my interviews and observations, follow the pattern of balance of foods yet desire to buy more if not the lack of funds.


French S, Mitchell N, & Wall M. (2010). Household income differences in food sources and food items purchased. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7(77), 1-8.

Monsivais P & Pechey R. (2015). Supermarket choice, shopping behavior socioeconomic status, and food purchases.American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 49(6), 868-877.

UC Magazine. (2020). UC Rankings.

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