What does a Millennial want?

Millennials Coming of Age

Goldman Sachs published research earlier this year on Millennial consumers’ buying habits.

What do Millennials want for Christmas? Or, put more broadly, what do they want, period? It’s a good question, given that my son is an older Millennial, and I’m still deciding what to buy him.

Sigmund Freud famously admitted that after 30 years of research into the feminine psyche, he still couldn’t answer the basic question, “What does a woman want?”

The Millennials have become the most studied and talked about generation since my generation, the Baby Boomers, came along. But are we any closer to knowing what they want?

Well, yes and no.

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs put together a nifty series of charts, “Millennials: Coming of Age,” that ran as sponsored content on The Washington Post website. The interactive charts were fun to go through and gave lots of information about what we might expect from one of the largest generations in history as it moves into its peak spending years.

Zachary A. Goldfarb of the Post summarized the Goldman Sachs charts in a Wonkblog post, highlighting what Millennials want—and don’t want. Among the things they want:

  • Cheap stuff. Millennials are more price-conscious than previous generations.
  • To be healthy. Millennials put a premium on eating right and overall health.
  • Athletic gear. Millennials tend to spend more on athletic apparel and footwear.
  • Social media. Millennials aren’t just the Facebook generation. They also use social media to make decisions about brands, where to spend time and who to hang out with.

What they don’t want:

  • A house. Fully 30 percent say they never plan to buy a house, another 30 percent don’t feel strongly about it.
  • A television. Only three in 20 Millennials think it’s really important to own a television. They’ve grown accustomed to watching TV on their laptops, tablets or smartphones.
  • A car. Nearly a third of Millennials do not plan to buy a car.
  • A luxury bag. Only 20 percent said it was important or extremely important to have an expensive handbag.

But wait, the Goldman Sachs charts also show that the Millennials’ aspirations aren’t that much different than those of older generations in some key areas. For example, 93 percent of 18-34-year-old renters said they do want to own a home someday. And even though Millennials have been putting off marriage and starting families, 70 percent said they’d like to get married someday and 74 percent want to have children.

Research from Accenture, the multinational management consulting company, challenges some of the enduring myths about Millennials. Accenture looked at the shopping behaviors of 6,000 consumers in eight countries, including 1,707 Millennials. Here are three myths that its research busted:

Myth #1: It’s all about online shopping. “In fact, interviews conducted recently at one of America’s largest shopping malls confirmed our survey findings that many members of the digital generation actually prefer visiting stores to shopping online…When it comes to shopping, we found that 68 percent of all Millennials demand an integrated, seamless experience regardless of the channel.”

Myth #2: Loyalty is lost. “In a recent survey of retail leaders, nearly 40 percent said the No. 1 concern they have about Millennials is their lack of loyalty. But we found that Millennials can be exceptionally loyal customers—provided they feel they’ve been treated right.”

Myth #3: Millennials treat retailers and brands the same as people on social networks. “While clicking an icon on a social network page might indicate that they consider a retailer or brand cool or hip, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are loyal customers…Instead, they view social media relationships with brands and retailers as transactional.”

Another study, “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation,” commissioned by Barkley and conducted by Service Management Group and The Boston Consulting Group is also worth a peak.

New paradigms for Millennial engagement in the experience economy from Barkley's research.

New paradigms for Millennial engagement in the experience economy from Barkley’s research.

Among the usual findings (Millennials are “digital natives,” strive for a healthy lifestyle, believe in cause marketing, etc.), Barkley also found that Millennials are in many ways similar to older generations, and they are not a homogeneous cohort. Well, gee, that really helps!

Along that same vein, Adam Smiley Poswolsky, writing in Fast Company (“What Millennial Employees Really Want”), noted that “IBM’s February 2015 millennial study found that millennial career goals don’t differ that much from older generations. Baby boomers, gen-Xers and millennials all want to make a positive impact on their organization and help solve social and environmental challenges.”

Poswolsky, a Millennial himself, says, “My parents’ generation grew up without computers, while my generation can’t remember a life without Facebook. We’re both looking for meaning in the workplace, so how can companies deliver on meaningful employee engagement?”

Among his suggestions: don’t just talk about impact, make an impact; create opportunities for mentorship, skills acquisition and co-leadership; give young talent a voice in your organization; and embrace a workforce that is in flux (“the average millennial is staying at their job less than three years”).

Finally, for a good list of research on Millennials, you might check out Bill Chamberlin’s blog post, “A Primer on Millennials: List of 25 Research Reports.”

Okay, so what to get for my son? I would say that he and I are a lot alike. Neither one of us likes to be pinned down (no long laundry list of gift ideas from us). And both of us will tell you, “I can’t think of anything.” So why not go with a gift card? With a twist: Millennials, it turns out, prefer electronic gift cards. Of course, why didn’t I think of that?

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