What Gets Gen Y Shopping Carts Rolling?

I recently participated in a panel discussion with three other Millennial marketeers, Matt Cheuvront, Lauren Fernandez and Kenji Summers. The topic was "Gen Y shopping habits" and the audience was about 1,000 retailers attending IRI's CPG Retail Summit in San Antonio. We had the pleasure of being moderated by the President of Innovation himself, Thom Blischok. The conversation was utterly fascinating to me, and very fun, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights.

Here are the questions and a summary of our answers:
  • How and where do you primarily shop – online, at the mall, on a smartphone…and why? 
    • Obviously my answer was "all of the above," but after more discussion it became clear that all of us were gravitating more and more towards shopping online. Kenji mentioned that he shops in brick-and-mortar stores, but even then, he checks prices online using his mobile device. I said that I tend to shop for necessities in the store, but for major purchases like a plasma TV, I'll go online and do the research first. It was widely agreed that customer reviews are extremely influential in our buying decisions.
  • How have the internet, social media, and other new technologies (mobile) changed the way you shop?  Relate to brands? 
    • We all agreed that the easy communication afforded by social media and mobile technologies has made us come to expect brands to up the ante when it comes to customer service. There are a million ways to communicate with us, the consumer, and when brands make the effort to be available and transparent, that's when we'll really connect with them.
  • Has the current economic climate impacted your spending habits? If so, how?  Do you buy more store brands over name brands if they are more economical?
    • This was where I was able to step in as the only panelist who had been unemployed and completely broke recently. The down economy definitely impacted my spending negatively. I didn't go out to eat very often, I stopped getting haircuts, and I stopped buying clothes (ouch). But I didn't stop spending altogether. My strategy was to set up a rewards system for myself. I would save a little money every time I got a check from a freelance client, and then whenever I landed a new client or met a goal, I would treat myself to something I was depriving myself of (a night out, a new jacket, etc). So brands targeting Millennials, don't despair - those of us not currently spending are saving up and working towards buying your products. Keep talking to us. We're listening!
  • What are your biggest motivators when making purchase decisions?   
    • For all of us, customer reviews and recommendations from friends were big. Yes, we're young and poor, and price is certainly a consideration, but if it comes down to choosing between a cheap product with terrible ratings, and a slightly more expensive product with excellent ratings, it was widely agreed that we would pay more for the higher rating. The internet is forcing brands to be held accountable for the quality of their products and customer service. It offers anybody and everybody a soap box, and Millennials, more than any other generation, are using that soap box.
  • Why should marketers pay close attention to your generation? What are your top expectations from brands and marketers today? 
    • We didn't get into this very much, so I'd like to touch on it now. My observation has been that Millennials are on the verge of something big. I think as soon as the economy recovers and Gen Y starts to have more disposable income, the entire retail landscape is going to be altered. We have high expectations from brands. We want to be brand loyal, and we will be, if you're fair, transparent, and communicative. We are very much an instant-gratification generation. We move fast and brands will have to keep up, or they're going to miss out.
  • What else should CPG companies and retailers do to increase brand loyalty with your generation?
    • Lauren touched on this a little bit with an example about Twitter. If she tweets about a product she likes, and they respond with something as simple as "thanks for the mention," she feels that much closer to the brand. I agree. If a company is accessible and I can feel like I have somehow made a personal connection with the brand, I will be more loyal to them, almost like a friend who does a good job of keeping in touch. We've been inundated with marketing messages and advertising, and those methods of mass communication are simply not as effective as they once were. 
On my flight home from the conference, I had the pleasure of getting some feedback from an audience member, Jana deHavilland King, Director of Consumer and Market Intelligence at L'Oreal.

For her, some of the highlights of the panel were hearing how brands capture our attention, and how we make buying decisions. She found it surprising that it was so important to us that brands make an effort to engage us on a personal level, and also that we're actively seeking out companies that are involved in the community or at least taking strides to make the world better. She didn't realize how important these things were to us and found it both refreshing and encouraging.

One thing that stuck out to her was that Gen Y seems very resourceful and aware. She found it impressive that we're so independent at such young ages. The way we're taking such huge risks right now and always going forward with nothing to fear, she thinks (and hopes) that we're going to do great things. She said she's curious and excited to see what our generation will be like in 10 years.

Jana's final takeaway was a whole new outlook on the Millennial generation. The phenomenon of constantly communicating and sharing online is intimidating to other generations, but she said when we explained it, it made a lot more sense and gave her an understanding that she didn't have before.

To see video highlights and innovation insights from the Summit, click here. For full audio, visit kenjisummers.com.

Millennials reading this, do you agree with our answers to the panel questions? Do you have anything to add?

Also, I overheard someone saying they thought our panel was "scary." I'm not sure what they meant by that, but it leads to my next question. Boomers, Gen X, does any of this surprise/scare you?


Anonymous said...


Great post as always. I really enjoyed reading the responses to the various questions because I'm always curious to hear what other Millenials think about what is going on in our world today, especially when it relates to marketing, advertising, social media etc. I'm glad you think our generation is on the verge of something big because I feel the same way but I'll admit there are days when it's hard to believe because of what's happening around us. I think there are a lot of talented Millenials out there who's talents and careers have been held in check due to the bad economy and I feel that the Millenials who have entered the work force in the last couple of years or so have been an untapped resource that many companies haven't used to their advantage yet. Hopefully once things pick up we will have more opportunities to showcase our talents, abilities and knowledge.

So, from one Millenial to another, thank you again for the great post and for representing our generation with class and authenticity.

-Matt Stengel

Kelsey said...

Hi Adrienne,

My name is Kelsey and I’m a sophomore at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. I’m currently writing an article on blogging as a career initiative for a News Writing and Reporting class and am looking for a professional’s input on the topic. I read about your blog in several online articles and felt like you would be the perfect person to contact. If you do not mind answering a few of my interview questions, please shoot me an e-mail back at krl2012@gwmail.gwu.edu. I would really appreciate the help!

Thank you so much for your time,
Kelsey L.

Siddhartha Herdegen said...

There's a lot of misinformation out there about Millennials. Many commentators simply look for any difference in behavior and ascribe it to the fact they're Millennials.

When you really get to the root of it there's only one question we need to ask to determine if the observed differences are due to youth or generational behavioral shift: http://bit.ly/bRD9b0

Veronica Stetter said...

I agree--we're on the verge of something very big. Politics will be a huge part of that, too.

nisha said...

Interesting article. You make some good points. Thank you again.

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Cat James said...


Very interesting, originally worded, and thought-provoking. As a so-called Millennial I agree with your thinking. I also think the next step is to organize how companies respond in a way that is continually, responsively communicative and "instantly gratifying". May I quote you on our marketing website? I am writing a piece for our company about us. Thanks

Adrienne Waldo said...

@Cat James, thanks for the support, of course you can quote the blog! We gotta spread the word :-)

Anonymous said...

Adrienne, great post! I totally agree with all your points. Yes, most of us are in college and "broke". As a fellow member of the Millennial generation, I believe marketers need to target our generation through location based services tools like FourSquare. I would be more apt to purchase something in a store if I "checked in" and instantly received a 20% coupon on my purchase via my smartphone. It's the unexpected surprises that go a long way. I really like your blog. Check out mine if you have time, it's on millennials embracing technology, entertainment, and social media and how they are moving our lives forward. The address is perryej.wordpress.com


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Sofia Britts said...

Yuppies these days prefer good quality products in the market - that's for sure. They're always looking for the best clothes, best gadgets, best food, etc. But the price will always be an issue. As a young consumer, I prefer having an item that is high in quality than those that are much cheaper with terrible ratings. Maybe that's the reason why payday loans (online) are still considered.