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The products dominating Gen Z students’ shopping lists – and what they reveal about them

Every year, students stock up on viral products and useful essentials ahead of university. What do this year’s trends say about Gen Z students as a whole? We journeyed into the depths of TikTok to investigate.  

For as long as young people have been heading off to university, the uni shopping list has existed. But it’s not a list that’s stayed the same forever. Now, you’ll more frequently find it typed into a notes app, shared on a TikTok screen, or chopped and changed to accommodate personal trends and preferences. 

A huge trend at the moment on TikTok is the wishlist – a way to collate everything you might want in one slideshow or video. Unlike in the US, where there are dedicated “Back to School” hauls and products, UK creators are more likely to create more general wishlists. But the uni shopping list and the TikTok wishlist are, in a sense, one and the same. Spanning homeware, fashion, and practical items, the products on a TikTok wishlist can easily make it into the uni suitcase.


With Gen Z at the moment, it’s less about “it” brands, and more about “it” products. This could, in part, be a cost-of living side effect (our research shows that 92% of UK students are affected, with one in five struggling to buy essentials). This means that they’re less likely to do a huge haul with a brand, and more likely to purchase one or two of its standout products.

So without further ado, here are some frequent heavy hitters on Gen Z’s wishlists – and what they tell us about UK students.

Dior Lip Glow Oil

Whenever financial insecurity rocks a society, the lipstick effect is never far behind. The phenomenon – which sees an uptick in smaller purchases from otherwise-luxury brands – is a way for shoppers to keep treating themselves while weathering a financial storm. The explosion of the Dior Lip Glow Oil on TikTok is one of the most literal embodiments of this effect.

But far from being “just” an “it” product, the Dior Lip Oil represents a new style of trend discovery being pioneered by Gen Zs on TikTok. Rather than hunting by brand, they seek products via searching for an aesthetic – which will often have video after video of corresponding wishlists, showcasing the products needed to achieve the aesthetic. As a regular feature on wishlists for the Vanilla Girl aesthetic, the Dior Lip Glow Oil’s bedfellows include Victoria’s Secret body mists, Ralph Lauren star-spangled banner jumpers, and Sol De Janeiro’s Brazilian bum Bum Cream.

This way of shopping perfectly embodies Gen Z: they gravitate towards social media to get ideas of things to buy, and they trust recommendations from their peers over anything else. If products are frequently landing on wishlists, then it’s a sign that it’s tried and tested and comes highly recommended.

Ikea Råskog trolly

With the US version of Freshers – Back To School season – already kicking off, UK students are already seeing an influx of dorm transformation content. And they want in.

While US dorm makeovers feature frilly curtains, self-raised beds and even temporary wallpaper jobs, UK students are a lot more practical. They have to be – after all, with an estimated 207,000 shortfall in student beds across the country, even getting a room is proving to be a near-insurmountable challenge. Once students secure a property, it’s more likely than not that their room will be their primary space for everything – sleep, study, hanging out with friends. Just 10% of houseshares have a separate living room. 

Enter Ikea’s Råskog trolly. A humble three-storey wheeled storage device, it has unlimited potential – a bedside table, a bar cart, an all-purpose zone for plants or books or Xbox controllers, a refuge to keep snacks safe from thieving flatmates; a holder of extensive Sol De Janeiro product collection; a stand for a laptop when watching films in bed. There’s a reason why most TikTok uni room tours feature the Råskog it can adapt with its owner. The other reason, of course, is that at £45, it’s cheap. Students spent an average of £235 per week in a normal week, but this balloons to £421 during Freshers week – giving plenty of room to stretch to a particularly savvy furniture purchase.

Vintage Diesel anything

When Diesel first started to go viral on TikTok, it wasn’t necessarily as a wardrobe staple. Its belt micro mini skirt found itself the subject of some good-natured mocking at the hands of Gen Z creators. Even people who bought it were confused at how they might sit, or walk, in the stiff wraparound garment. It drew comparisons to a WWE belt or a car mat, and with a $1,000 price tag, it’s not exactly student-friendly. 

@yuyi_chua when you get a $1000 skirt but you can’t even wear it in public 😅 #diesel #miniskirt #dieselbeltskirt #tryon #slay #microminiskirt #fashiontok ♬ original sound

While the belt disturbed and divided Gen Z TikTokers, the logo it bore stuck in their minds – and found its way into their wardrobes. Rather than splashing out on an expensive belt-skirt, though, they’re fuelling their spend into second-hand designer goods (on Vinted, there are currently one million items being coveted by 332.2K fans of all genders). Urban Outfitters now stocks a (relatively) affordable Diesel range, and – true to form – Diesel tops and belts feature heavily on TikTok wishlists. 

Consistently, Gen Zs say that quality is important to them, and with a luxury fashion retailer like Diesel, they’re going to get it. Like they did with Crocs several years ago, they’ve successfully turned a jokey fashion moment into a viable wardrobe staple.

Scrub Daddy

Gen Zs are often coded as “sensible” in public discourse. This is often taken to mean they’re not big drinkers, a conversation which can eclipse the finer points of what it means to be a sensible 18-year-old.

There’s another, less-talked-about facet to Gen Z’s sensible nature. They’re really, really clean. It’s not surprising – they did just spend their formative years in a global pandemic, within which hygiene became one of the most crucial societal values. But Gen Z’s interest in cleanliness went beyond an appreciation of hand sanitiser. They derived serious enjoyment from cleaning content – a toilet being blitzed with a colourful cocktail of chemicals, for example, or an incredibly dirty concrete house being systematically jet washed. 

This has, in turn, shaped an unlikely generation of students who are very clean. These past years, many despairing students have turned to TikTok to document dirty kitchens left by flatmates, while others urge future Freshers to buy a mattress topper to safeguard themselves from the traces of previous inhabitants.


Anyway, Scrub Daddy is a dish sponge shaped like a face that made it big after appearing on Shark Tank in the US. After graduating from the Duolingo and Ryanair school of zany TikTok marketing, these sponges have made it out of the digital realm – and out of the US – into many a UK student kitchen. It’s a product that suits Gen Z students down to the ground, adding a bit of character to something as boring as washing dishes, and satisfying their high standards of sanitation.

Honourable mentions

Ugg slippers – another gender-defying fashion item, and perfect for shuffling from bedroom to kitchen to lectures and back again. 

Airpods Max – at a cool £549, the Airpods Max are an investment – but one that embodies young people’s unwavering commitment to the Apple brand. Plus, many UK students will pick up tech purchases ahead of uni, so if they’re going to commit, now’s the time. 

B&M Sherpa Waffle Throw – regularly cited as the affordable homeware brand in UK Freshers hauls, B&M is having a bit of a moment – and this waffle throw will be gracing many beds this Autumn. 

A cosy hoodie – a hoodie never goes out of style, but the brand flogging it often will. Male TikTokers are opting for Trapstar, girls are investing in White Fox Boutique, and Stüssy features on the wishlists of all genders.

Final word

As with any Gen Z trend, these are not set in stone. The cycle moves quickly – and before you know it, a new streetwear brand could swoop in to replace Stüssy and Trapstar, or a deinfluencing campaign might send the Dior Glow Lip Oil careening to the dark recesses of Gen Zs’ makeup bags. But the popularity of these items does tell us a lot about how Gen Z students shop and what their priorities are – food for thought as you build out a marketing strategy with them in mind.

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