Much Ado About Millennials
Being a millennial myself, I can’t speak to what news coverage of previous generations’ coming-of-age was like, but something tells me that the world today is more obsessed with this emerging generation, my generation, than it has been with any other class of individual to date. There’s nothing wrong with that—we love the attention, and all—but it has to get a little tiring to keep harping on about millennials, trying to solve us like we’re some massive jigsaw puzzle, no?
Nevertheless, new reports are released almost daily, it seems, that claim to have figured out the key to marketing to millennials, or how exactly we’re using our smartphones, or that slaps some label on all of us.
Before we get into the two reports that recently struck a chord with this millennial, let’s quickly refresh our memory and look up for the nth time who exactly a millennial, or member of Generation Y, is. According to nearly every source you’ll come across on the topic, the millennial generation is defined as those individuals born between the years of 1980 and 2000—a good 20-year span of human beings who are anywhere from 16 to 36 years old right now. So, we’re talking about people who grew up with Transformers and LA Gear shoes, and kids who are just now getting their drivers licenses and jamming out to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, and we’re clumping them all into one giant group. Half of this generation is familiar with the Encyclopedia Britannica, while the other half doesn’t know a world without the Internet. Starting to catch my drift?
So why do we continue to be clumped all together? Sure, it gets eyeballs onto websites, but how accurate are these studies in the grand scheme of things? And how obscure and arbitrary, sometimes, can the topics of these reports get? (No joke: The Washington Post and The New York Times ran articles on a report that claimed millennials’ declining interest in cereal as a breakfast item is proof of our laziness.)
I’ll never understand it, but I digress.
Earlier this year, Blackhawk Engagement Solutions released a report that included data the group said unveils millennials’ path-to-purchase habits. And, not so surprisingly in this digital age, millennial shoppers are tuned in when it comes to mobile and social shopping, and they “do not observe historically traditional shopping patterns.”
“Millennials are leading a change in purchase trends. As such, it’s incredibly important for retail marketers to understand how to appeal to this demographic,” Rodney Mason, group vice president of marketing at Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, said in a statement. “Millennials are savvy shoppers, and many have come of age in a post-recession era; our research shows that this group routinely comparison shops on mobile to get the best value and shopping experience, but the market has not yet capitalized on those habits.”
The Blackhawk Engagement Solutions “Millennials Disrupt Shopping” report boils down the findings of two separate studies, the group said. The first was a U.S. study conducted in April 2016 that surveyed more than 500 millennials and focused on their shopping behaviors; the second, conducted in October 2015, surveyed an additional 500 millennials and keyed in on their app and gift card preferences. Together, Blackhawk said, the surveys identified the ways this generation researches products, the devices they use, and the influences along the path to their ultimate purchase.
Here’s a look at some of the key findings:
- Smartphones rule. Smartphones were the dominant method for connecting to the Internet among millennials—89 percent use them compared to 75 percent who use laptops, 45 percent who use tablets, and 37 percent who use desktop computers.
- Social shopping. Social media was far and away the primary source for shopping news and discovering products for millennials, the report found. Social sites were followed by Google, Amazon, and retail sites. TV came in at number six.
- Price-conscious. Millennials are hypersensitive when it comes to price. Price has the greatest influence on their decision to ultimately purchase an item, and 95 percent have more or the same sensitivity to price as last year. Other influencers included quality, brand, store, and availability.
- Rebates over discounts. When it comes to electronics, entertainment, sporting goods, clothing, wireless plans, and even groceries, millennials would rather see a higher-value rebate offer over an instant discount.
Some other findings of note: 64 percent of millennials believe that gift cards are safer to use online than any other digital payment method, and 66 percent said they believe gift cards limit identity fraud; Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS) is an attractive incentive for millennials with 88 percent saying they would consider the option if it meant saving $10 on a $50 item; and the millennial generation has fully embraced loyalty programs, as 69 percent said they belong to such a program, and 70 percent of those millennials said they are happy with the program.
Master of the Second Screen
I love hearing that I am, or, rather, the generation that I belong to as a whole is, the “master” of something. It makes me/we/us feel special, or something. Jerry Seinfeld was the “master of his domain” once upon a time. When I was a kid, I worked my way up through the Hot Shots Golf and Tennis ranks (video games), reaching the “Master” level in each. (I still have my special badge hanging on a wall somewhere.)
But another distinction has been laid upon us, courtesy of a new study by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which found that millennials are “masters of the second screen.” That’s to say, when watching TV, we have perfected the skill of being able to divide our attention between the large screens in front of us and the tinier screens that we typically have within our reach. CTA found that nearly nine out of every ten millennials (88 percent) engage in second-screen behaviors when watching video content. That checks in as the highest percentage of any generational demographic.
This study hit the wire as consumers were gearing up to watch what typically has been the single most dominant event in terms of second-screen activity: the Super Bowl.
“More than ever before, consumers—especially millennials—are using non-traditional devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones for content viewing,” Steve Koenig, senior director of market research at CTA, said in a statement. “As technology continues to improve, consumer behaviors and expectations also evolve—but televisions still reign as the preferred viewing device in American households today.”
Looking at the TV viewer population as a whole, CTA found that half use a second screen (phone, tablet, etc.) to augment their television viewing experience. Among the most popular reasons for engaging with a second screen are: access to additional information about the content they’re viewing (50 percent), watch additional content during commercials (48 percent), and follow social media discussions about the content they’re watching (43 percent). Generationally-speaking, millennials are far more likely to engage with a second screen than adults aged 35 and older:
- 71 percent of millennials engage with social media while watching TV compared to 31 percent for older generations.
- 70 percent watch content on other devices during commercials compared to 38 percent for older generations.
The second-screen trend isn’t doing much to reverse the trend of TV sales though, CTA said, especially as the penetration of 4K Ultra HD units into the American household continues to rise. CTA projects that revenues will reach $19 billion for all TV sets and displays in 2016—on par with 2015—while volume will drop by just 1 percent to just under 40 million units. On the 4K side of things, CTA expects 2016 to be a phenomenal year for the advanced TV tech with 13 million units shipping (an 83 percent increase) and revenue expected to top $10 billion.
The big reason why TVs refuse to succumb to these second-screen devices as the main driver of consuming video content: screen size. The top reasons consumers purchase TVs rather than nontraditional viewing devices, according to CTA, include screen size (80 percent) and picture quality (62 percent). So while millennials enjoy that second-screen experience, they still need that first screen in order to have said second screen.
I get the interest in and attention given to trying to “solve the millennial,” but as I said near the top of this article, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Once you start digging into the massive pile of studies on millennials (I don’t recommend doing so), you’re bound to find countless that contradict one another anyway. So who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong?
My suggestion: Forget about segmenting us into our own generation, and get out there, get face-to-face with your customer or with the audience you’re trying to interact with, and get to know them directly. Don’t lump us all together, stop slapping labels, and give up looking for the Golden Rule on Millennials. Get grassroots with things and take an interest in the people you are trying to interact with and find how you can relate with them instead of putting your faith in some arbitrary study.
Better yet, look beyond just this one generation of individuals and take notice of the changes happening globally. I bet a survey on Gen X or Baby Boomers now would’ve produced entirely different results 10, 15, 20 years ago. Technology has changed the way all consumers interact with every industry—not just retail. So broaden your scope and stop worrying about my fellow millennials and me. We’d greatly appreciate it.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Dealerscope magazine.