What marketers need to know about millennial shopping habits in 2016

Millennials are the biggest buying demographic that marketers face, so it's important to understand their shopping habits.

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You’ve been told for years that you should keep an eye on millennials. Regardless of who your target market is at the moment, you must understand who millennials are, what they like, and how they interact with their favorite brands.

Ultimately, reaching millennials will determine your long-term success as a business.

Who are Millennials?

The term “millennials” is thrown around so much that it’s become essentially meaningless in many circles. Some people don’t even know who the label refers to.

By definition, millennials are Americans who were born somewhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. A common range is 1982–2000 — but you’ll also see more liberal and conservative estimates.

Other names for millennials are Peter Pan or Boomerang Generations — since these individuals often have a propensity for staying young and moving back in with their parents after college. Notably, these names are less endearing.

Millennials were raised during a rise in technology, economic uncertainty, and international conflict. All of these things combine to create an individual who is spirited, accepting of new ideas, and somewhat narcissistic.

While people love to argue about whether millennials are self-entitled brats or progressive freethinkers, the reality is that it doesn’t matter. Millennials are who they are, and people must accept it.

From a business perspective, however, it’s important to understand what millennial characteristics and preferences mean to the overall buying process.

5 shopping habits most millennials possess

Do you know who millennials are, what they like, and how they interact with their favorite brands? Let’s investigate a few of these ideas in order to better understand who you’re dealing with.

1. Little interest in traditional media

As you may guess, traditional media pales in comparison to digital media when it comes to influencing millennial purchasing habits. However, you may not realize just how ineffective traditional mediums are.

Take car buying, for example. VehicleHistory.com reports that traditional media influences only three percent of millennial car buyers. That’s an incredibly low number! Extrapolating those findings across other similar industries, it’s clear that the majority of your investment needs to be in digital media.

2. Social Media Should be the Focus

Digital media encompasses a wide variety of mediums and techniques. So, which medium is the highest returning for brands that are targeting millennials? Well, according to a recent study from Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, it’s social media.

More than half of respondents — 55 percent to be exact — rely on social media as their primary source for shopping information and news. By comparison, television comes in a distant sixth on the list, while print media is seventh. Touching on the previous point, this reiterates the importance of emphasizing social media and digital marketing.

3. Price Sensitivity is a Very Real Thing

The same study shows that millennials care deeply about price. “When it comes to price sensitivity, 95 percent of respondents said they have more or the same sensitivity to price as last year,” entrepreneur Peter Gasca says. “Additionally, price has the greatest influence on millennials' purchase decisions above all other factors, including quality, brand, store and availability.”

This may seem strange in an economy that’s growing, but you also have to remember that millennials have more information at their fingertips than ever before. As a result, they’re able to quickly analyze and compare prices from different brands. And with same-day and two-day shipping options available, millennial consumers are totally fine with ordering from the cheapest vendor.

4. Experiential Marketing is a Difference Maker

Whether or not they know the term “experiential marketing,” this is exactly what millennials want. They crave authenticity and want brands to be real with them.

“Millennials are the first generation of digital natives. They’ve grown up in a world where the line between virtual and reality have been blurred almost beyond recognition,” marketer Gabe DiGristina says. “Their desire for authenticity has undoubtedly pushed marketers to raise the bar for how we reach out to all consumers — but especially to the millennial set.”

DiGristina suggests investing in experiential marketing by showcasing corporate citizenship, always telling the truth, establishing instant gratification, and creating meaningful participation. Are you currently doing any of these things? Could you integrate more of them into your future strategies?

5. Life stages aren’t a big deal

In the past, traditional marketing has been shaped around life stages. These include things like going to college, getting married, having children, buying a home and retiring. Well, for the first time ever, life stages no longer apply. Millennials are bucking this trend and showing little consistency in entering and exiting various life stages.

Millennials are going to college and then moving back in with parents. They’re getting married and having children later in life. They often rent for years — sometimes even a decade — before buying their own place. They’re totally unique.

Instead of focusing on life stages, make values your priority. Tap in to the things that make millennials tick — social groups, identities, causes. Millennials are much more reachable when you engage them in these ways.

Meet millennials where they are

If there’s one thing you need to know about millennials, it’s that they expect brands to cater to them. This isn’t necessarily a selfish penchant — it’s simply a product of the world in which they’ve been raised. For their entire lives, millennials have been inundated with technologies, services, and environments that are tailored to their needs and preferences. As a result, they’ve come to expect the same level of personalization and attention in their relationships with brands.

As a marketer, you must be willing to meet millennials right where they are. Don’t try to fight it. The best thing you can do is invest time and research into studying your specific niche of the millennial demographic and then develop lead generation techniques that target these characteristics and tendencies.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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