Next Generation

What Makes a Millennial Spend Big?

Money isn’t easy to come by, especially when you’re young.

Thus, it’s common for people in early adulthood to be frugal. When there’s little money to spend, it’s necessary to spend wisely. But today’s young adult—the millennials, or Gen Y—have been forced to behave in exceptionally frugal ways. Having come of age in the great recession, often saddled with high levels of student loan debt, and witness to the disappearance of their elders’ savings, millennials are not an acquisitive bunch. Unlike when the two generations that preceded them (boomers and Gen Xers) were at a comparable age, millennials are extremely tight with a buck.

That, understandably, has caused consternation among retailers—many of which are also struggling to find their footing in the post-recession era. But there is some good news for companies looking to pry a few dollars out of today’s young adults: Millennials aren’t always thrifty. A look at data from The NPD Group’s Checkout Tracking℠ service shows that members of Gen Y do tend to spend more when certain conditions are met.

  • Millennials shop more frequently at brick-and-mortar, but they spend more money when shopping online.
  • Millennials spend more than twice as much per receipt when shopping online in three categories: clothing, electronics, and home/kitchen.

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What’s interesting is that these two spending patterns appear to grow more pronounced as today’s young adults grow older. In other words, millennials have settled into these patterns. This isn’t a trend, it’s the new normal. And retailers are going to have to adapt. “Millennials are learning to do more with less. And spending has become an art form. Understanding what is most likely to influence that spend is critical for success today,” according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group.

Three factors seem to drive millennials’ higher online spends:

  • Minimum order requirements for free shipping.
  • The ease of comparing prices for higher-ticket items online.
  • Easy return policies for items that often require returns, i.e., clothing.

And it doesn’t take a retail genius to see that the overarching theme of those three factors is convenience. As noted in the January issue of The Robin Report, (www.therobinreport.com/asking-why-gen-y-shops-the-way-it-does), millennials place great value on convenience. And given their immersion in the always-on world of mobile, they fully expect retailers to make the shopping experience an easy one.

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For example, millennials skew very heavily to buying in specialty stores as opposed to department stores. And the specialty stores that do best with millennials online are those that have targeted them with online/mobile strategies, A specialty store with a well-developed mobile strategy gives Gen Y shoppers what they crave: the ability to find what they want at a price they can handle in a hassle-free manner. Find what you want online. Dash into the store and try it on if need be. Buy it there. Or buy it from your phone.

 

For example, Asos, the online fashion retailer that offers free shipping for purchases greater than $40, wins a full percent of the online apparel spend of 18 to 24-year olds. By comparison, Banana Republic and LOFT get just 2 percent, while Anthropologie and Bloomingdales get only 1 percent.The key lesson here for retailers is clear: if you want a piece of millennials’ limited wallet, you better make it very easy for young adult consumers to do business with you.

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