Obsessing about millennial shopping habits is dangerous
Many retailers have become obsessed with defining shopping habits by generations, and are particularly fixated on millennials’ shopping habits.
This is not to say that different generations don’t shop and consume in different ways. They certainly do, and it’s essential to keep that in mind. But age is not the only factor that defines customers, just as it is not the only factor that defines people.
Shopping habits are influenced by a variety of demographics. To start with, being a man or a woman not only influences the kind of products we buy, but also the way we choose to buy them. For example, according to a study by First Insight, men buy more on the Internet and in department stores, and more frequently research via Amazon before going to a physical store.
Also, our income can affect us in obvious ways – we don’t buy what we can’t afford. When it comes to millennial shopping habits, that is a particularly acute issue. A study by the U.S. Federal Reserve suggests that millennials consume less than other generations simply because they have less money than members of earlier generations did at their age.
We tend to overlook other aspects of shopping, too, when we are obsessed with these different generations. For example, it’s easy to forget the distinct differences among generational members and how priorities change over the course of our lives.
Today, a millennial may be a little less than 40 years old or a little less than 20. Of course, there is a significant difference between what the youngest and oldest in this group want to buy and their means to pay for it. Being a college student with no commitments is completely different from being married and having children and a mortgage.
And if this were not enough, the past 15 years have taught us that consumer habits can be powerful … and are not limited by the fact that people belong to one generation or another. A report by KPMG shows that Generation X (people born between the mid-1960s and the end of the 1970s) buys more from the Internet than millennials. And baby boomers (born between the 1940s and the middle of the 1960s) make online purchases with the same frequency as millennials. When the categories we use to classify consumers are too rigid, they end up falling apart.
These findings have led some analysts and experts to reject generations as a useful way for understanding customers. But this conclusion is just as presumptuous as the one that generations are the key to our identities.
What we can learn from generational studies
Generational studies can help us find the best way to attract our customers. The fact that the studies are not perfect doesn’t mean they’re not useful.
For example, it’s interesting to know that baby boomers appreciate immediate service, with little or no red tape, that is consistent and constant. The solidity and quality of the product or service are more important to them than flexibility or price. And, because of their age, baby boomers place greater importance on products having to do with energy, health and well-being.
Meanwhile, Gen Xers tend to be especially interested in products for the home, the family or small children. They usually do some research before buying and are more concerned about whether the product serves its purpose than what it costs.
And the millennials and Gen Z? The former, born in the 1980s and 1990s, pay more attention to price, their shopping experience, personal attention, having lots of choices and speed of delivery. Members of Gen Z (born in the 21st century) depend on an allowance from their parents and usually live at home, so price is crucial. They research potential purchases on the internet and prefer to try out products before buying them.
All this information should be carefully evaluated, and after doing so, it’s almost certainly possible to determine how to turn it into greater satisfaction for customers and more sales for retailers and brands. Be very careful about presumptions and easy fixes. They’re reasonable for the people who propose them, but can be costly for those who decide to apply them to their stores.
Dimas Gimeno is the former CEO of El Corte Inglés.