One of the most amusing things about Millennial stereotypes is that so many of them are contradictory. And, apparently, it’s driving the marketing industry crazy.
We’re typecast as a bunch of hipsters who, when we emerge from the latest craft brew tap room or the coolest new coffee roaster joint, want to “shop local” and support artisans (or as the hip folks say, “makers”) in our hometowns.
But we’re also supposedly denizens of fast fashion retailers like the behemoth that is Forever 21 and its even-cheaper cousin, F21 Red. And we apparently don’t even care, as we inch further into our 20s and 30s, that shopping there is ironic. Who cares if we dress like we want to be “forever 21” if we save a buck?
Somehow, at the same time, we’re also apparently responsible for killing the American Mall. Just ask USA Today, which recently published a video report entitled “Millennials are killing department stores.”
So, which is it? Do we want to shop local and support small business? Or would we prefer to pop into our nearest fast fashion retailer to save a buck?
If you ask me, it’s both.
You would be hard-pressed to find a Millennial woman who has not spent much of her 20s shopping at Forever 21. You would also be hard-pressed to find a Millennial that doesn’t regularly shop at Target or Costco for necessities, or seek out low-cost home goods places like well, Home Goods, or the ever-popular IKEA, when we finally get a chance to move out and replace our kiddy furniture.
We appreciate a good discount because we don’t have much money to throw around. Don’t believe me? Google “millennial salaries” and one of the first results is a September article by Forbes entitled, “Why Are Millennial Salaries Disproportionately Low?”
U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 18 to 34 year olds made an average of $35,845 in 1980. Between 2009 to 2013, the average for that age group was less: $33,883. That comparison depresses me too much to bother factoring in inflation.
Chances are, we’ve got less money than you did at our age. So yeah, we’re mindful of how much we’re spending, and on what.
In June, the Fashion Institute of Technology released the 2017 Millennial Consumer Expectation and Brand Perception Survey. The research included 10 surveys of 4,000 Millennials aged 18-34.
When asked about the most important factor in evaluating a brand, 40% of respondents cited price, and more than 60% prioritized quality above all else.
The data isn’t too hard to decipher. We want to be sure what we’re buying is worth its cost. And you know what? Often times, it isn’t. In general, we’re weary of price mark-ups. You want me to spend $30 on a paper-thin plain scoop neck tee? Uh, hate to burst your bubble, overpriced retailers: I can get that at Forever 21 for $5. Alternatively, I can get a quality blouse with actual inseams (remember those?) that was made in America for a bit more, and it will last much longer. Either option is better than wasting money on something that isn’t worth its value.
Preferably, Millennials would like to know our money is going to something we can support, like local businesses. FedEx reports that 40% of Millennials say they prefer shopping locally. Why? The delivery giant points to Millennials’ desire to feel connected to the brands and products they purchase, as well as their desire for unique or customized goods. And FIT’s survey found that nearly half (48%) of Millennials are more likely to buy from a brand if they actually know the people behind it.
Maybe Millennials are killing the American Mall. But it’s because we’re savvy shoppers, not because we’re trying to ruin everything you hold dear. I know they seemed like super cool places in all those ’80s movies, but in reality a lot of malls are generally unpleasant to spend time in. Unless, that is, you enjoy walking down seemingly endless terrariums whilst dodging unsupervised children and simultaneously cheery/disgruntled individuals intent upon selling you a cell phone contract.
As that USA Today video pointed out, Millennials want to feel immersed in an experience if they go shopping. We want whatever we’re buying to be presented in a way that is relatable and appealing, shows us its real world application, and even allows us to test it out. Marketing firms specializing in experiential advertising, like Long Beach-based RMD Group, are thriving. A Long Beach design firm, IDA Architecture, specializes in transforming retail to suit this trend. You can see the firm’s work throughout the city, including in many new spots set to debut at the redesigned The Streets (aka City Place).
Retail that mixes experience with a local vibe is the true key to winning over our generation, retail-wise. It’s a trend that is cropping up all over the place when you look at new retail centers. Take the LB Exchange underway at Douglas Park, which is billed on its official Facebook page as “An Exciting, Experiential Retail and Dining Destination.” A similar but smaller concept is included in plans for the new Broadway Block development in downtown. It’s a trend that locally was first embodied in what was perhaps presciently titled “The Lab Anti-mall” in Costa Mesa. Incidentally, the developers of that project have purchased an enormous chunk of land in North Long Beach, and rumor has it they’re planning a similar concept.
Now, when it comes to shopping online, people of all ages turn to it for convenience and affordability. If that’s a trend driven by Millennials, it’s only because we’re the first generation to have come of age during the era of the Internet, so we’re quite comfortable shopping on it. And yes, it’s a trend that is eating into the profits of retailers of all sizes. But we’re people who crave experiences, after all. The Internet can’t give us much in the way of that, for now. The mall might be dying, but retail is not. It’s transforming. And considering that the Millennial generation is now the largest living age cohort with a correspondingly hefty spending power, we do have something to do with that.