Retail Customer Experience: Why Generation Y Isn’t Buying Your Products

Feb 09, 2010

By Christine Carter, owner of Epps Consulting

Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail
Customer Experience
, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers
differentiate the shopping experience.

As a 23-year-old consumer, I can tell
you this: my attention is short, my demands are great and my purchases are
diverse. I live in a day and age where social media apps, slogan tees and
even Nike sneakers can be customized to fit my lifestyle.

Studies vary, but
Generation Y is typically considered to be made up of people born between 1979
and 1997. There are 113 million in the U.S. shopping in malls and boutiques
54 times a year, and we have approximately $100 a week in disposable income
burning a hole in our pockets.

We tend to live with only one parent, which
makes us more open-minded than our predecessors. Conversely, traditional values
and parental approval are very important. Our Baby Boomer parents taught us
the importance of being socially conscious. Generation Y is also, of course,
the most technologically savvy generation yet.

Because our generation responds
and adapts rather quickly to social changes, we have emerged from the recession
as “Recessionistas,” informed shoppers who
stick to tight budgets while still managing to stay trendy and cultured. In addition
to buying necessities and spending as Recessionistas, we continually strive for
goods that express our individuality. In just a decade, we’ve influenced the
production of monogrammed screen tees, colored laptop computers and rhinestone
cell phone accessories.

If you’re able to keep these strategies in mind when marketing to
Generation Y today, you’ll secure a lifelong customer in the future as we evolve
into mature adults and parents.

1. Appeal to our egos, our parents, AND
THEN our senses.
products and services should appeal to our individuality, but they should
also be something we can share with our Baby Boomer parents. Again, brands
such as the Gap and Nordstrom have successfully managed to offer products
that both generations find appealing. Another reason these brands have
been so successful is because their strategic choice of music, lighting,
color palette, layout and visual merchandising appeals to Generation

2. Minimize the television ads. We
were glued to the tube as kids. We’ve learned to tune out traditional advertising
methods. Convey your funny or emotional messages to Generation Y via guerilla,
viral and social media marketing first, then supplement with traditional
advertising. Another tip: We love word-of-mouth referrals and celebrity

3. Offer a new take on promotions. If
your store is at or near a location where we spend the majority of our
time (shopping malls, concert arenas, theme parks or movie theatres), incorporate
these locations into your promotions. Consider cross-promoting with these
venues as well.

If James Cameron’s box-office bonanza “Avatar” taught
us anything, it’s that studying is the first step toward profiteering.
Like the Na’vi, for many retailers, Generation Y are aliens that leave
them confused. The only thing that’s predictable about us is our unpredictability.
Our personalities and shopping patterns are so vastly different from what
was previously exhibited by Generation X. Sorry, but we turned out to be
nothing like our older siblings.

Discussion Questions:
What do you think retailers and brands may still not understand about
selling to the Gen Y generation? What do you think of the advice
offered in the article regarding marketing to Gen Y?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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15 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: Why Generation Y Isn’t Buying Your Products"

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Joel Warady
Joel Warady
11 years 5 months ago

I think Christine is dead-on with her article, and with her comments. And the most telling paragraph written by this consultant who is under the age of 25; she is comparing shopping to living her life as part of the Na’vi tribe.

Ask 100 retail CEOs what she is talking about, and I have to imagine that 75% would have no idea. And that would begin to show you what the issues are between retailers and the Gen Ys.

They live in different worlds, and don’t speak the same language. Great article!

Susan Rider
Susan Rider
11 years 5 months ago

Gen Y is surprising and frustrating a lot of businesses. Working with them, many managers just shake their heads in amazement. They are a ME generation and totally into the eco-friendly/save the world movement. They don’t take criticism well and refuse to conform.

Most retailers have not changed their model much to attract the Gen Y population. Unfortunately, they will realize they need to when it may be too late. You cannot try to attract them in doing what you’ve always done. This generation demands more individualization and more personalization.

I agree with the advice and agree too that a retailer wanting to attract this generation will need to get into the minds of those Gen Y people.

Carol Spieckerman
11 years 5 months ago

Succinct and spot-on direction from the source! I especially like #3 and it’s something we’re talking about quite a bit with our clients, particularly in the licensing arena: the importance of proximity, participation and occasion. More brands are getting on board with this; instead of focusing on pure volume plays, they are looking at how they can make the most relevant and repetitious impression without wearing out the welcome. Social media is an obvious component, however, it also means exploring high-impact venues such as sporting events and concerts along with co-marketing plays that allow them to attach their brands and core categories to ones that already have traction with Gen Y. Thanks Gen Y for keeping everyone on their toes!

Sandy Miller
Sandy Miller
11 years 5 months ago

The best place to sell to Gen Y or any other Gen is where and when they make their buying decisions. The amazing thing is most retailers who would most benefit from this do not effectively do it.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
11 years 5 months ago

This is an excellent guide for any retailer looking to build and grow their business over the long term.

There are a couple of key numbers worth considering here. First, at 113 million, the Gen-Yers are a third larger than the Boomers (which has dominated retail for decades). Christine points out that the Gen-Y population is spending an average of $100/day. The equivalent spend for the Boomers is $64/day, down from $98/day in 2008.

You don’t need to be a statistician to get the point. Focusing your merchandising and marketing strategies on the Boomers and not adapting to the Gen-Y market is a losing proposition. Growing a profitable business requires understanding and delivering to Gen-Y.

As already noted above, the biggest challenge is that most retailers are run by Boomers, the original Me generation. As Darwin would say, adapt or die.

Li McClelland
Li McClelland
11 years 5 months ago

Christine makes some interesting observations. Yet as desperate retailers seek to pigeonhole and try to reach the Gen Y consumer, they should be ever mindful that pigeonholing women, boomer, Hispanic, black or gay consumers has never worked well and neither will this. Consumers are individuals not groups. It’s the product and the service, not the ultimate buyer which needs focus.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
11 years 5 months ago

Given what we know today about Gen Y, I completely agree. There are factors however, that will greatly impact Gen Y in the months and years to come that aren’t mentioned.

In all likelihood, the next 5-10 years will be a period of unprecedented (high double-digit) unemployment among young adults. Several factors are conspiring on this:
1. Postponed retirement of working Baby Boomers. A significant percentage maintain they will work longer in order to regain their investment losses.
2. Increased education levels required for specialized and skilled career opportunities and the elimination of middle management roles.
3. The sheer size of the Gen Y cohort – As Bill Emerson points out, this generation is quite a bit larger than Boomers and much larger than Gen X.

In other words, the Gen Y we know today is Gen Y with money. What we don’t yet fully understand is what Gen Y looks like without money or jobs to produce it.

Adam Drake
Adam Drake
11 years 5 months ago
I think we are way over complicating things. Gen Y is different from boomers because they are younger! It doesn’t mean they are different from other generations when those generations were the same age. A quote: “where we spend the majority of our time (shopping malls, concert arenas, theme parks or movie theatres).” Is that any different from you when you were a that age? We all had short attention spans, cared more about the environment, want to be treated like an individual, etc, etc, etc. I think we can de-mystify Gen Y a little bit when we think of them as young adults with new technology–not a different breed all together. When I was that age I got my information from cable (and MTV) which was different from my parents. We were accused of all the things presented here. The source and outlet of information changes and companies need to adapt to that. The next generation of young adults will have different tools then Gen Y but their needs will remain largely (though not… Read more »
Michael Boze
Michael Boze
11 years 5 months ago

I think the Generation Y consumers get and process information differently than the Boomers do.

They use highly edited search tools for routine purchases. They do not share the same biases for traditional media that there parents do.

Price and limited income are big factors with less ego on where they purchased items at. They know quality and value very well.

They represent a very rational purchasing model.

Roger Saunders
11 years 5 months ago
Christine makes some solid points in her summary of some differences for the Gen Y group. However, it might serve this 23 year old well to explore an early 1970s book by Nancy Friday, “My Mother Myself.” She may uncover a germ of truth to “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” In reviewing the January, 2010 Consumer Intentions & Actions (CIA) Survey of 9,500+ Adults, I thought of my 30 year old daughter (born in 1979), and the “Blonde Bombshell” I married 36 years ago (62, but looks ’39’). I then cut the data of Adults 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64. Interesting patterns emerge about “Behavior,” “Attitude,” and “Purchase Intentions.” The 25-34 year olds (older edge of the Gen Y) Behave like 18-24 year olds when it comes to Cell Phone purchases/Activity, Holiday Shopping, percent of population planning to buy a car in the next 6 months, Changes taking place in their lives, Confidence levels, thoughts about whether the economy will ever readjust, concerns about unemployment levels. Those same 25-34 year… Read more »
Mark Burr
11 years 5 months ago
What I hear screaming from the article and the comments is we are here, we’re different, notice us, we have different stuff, we want someone to notice. The fact is–not so much. I can remember my mother changing my view on how my generation was a result of so much change and technology so much more than hers. She reminded me that she went from few people having a private phone or TV in their home to having a phone table in the hallway and a TV in the living room in just the amount of time it took me to go through junior high and high school. It was some perspective. Each wants to be considered different– and not like our parents’ generation. It’s a truth that in many ways, each is uniquely different. It’s just that in reality, it really is not so much. They are there for certain. We do notice. Typically we don’t understand. The truth…just as with any generation, they don’t either. Remarkably as pointed out, each generation as it… Read more »
Paul R. Schottmiller
Paul R. Schottmiller
11 years 5 months ago

I agree that a large part of the difference is found due to developmental age and the general state of affairs during their formative teen years (relatively positive to the extent you can generalize).

That said, there is no question that technology is fundamentally changing how/where they consume and process information along with how/where they interact with others. Additionally, their appetite and enthusiasm for technology-driven change is higher.

Retailers need to adjust to reach this demographic, lest they be marketing like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. One key difference is offering buying capabilities to Gen Ys in their environment(s) in addition to expecting them to come into the traditional store/web environments.

Vahe Katros
Vahe Katros
11 years 5 months ago

The author says: “my attention is short, my demands are great and my purchases are diverse.”

I think: Is this universal across all merchandise and service categories?

The author says: “The only thing that’s predictable about us is our unpredictability.”

I think: Is this universal across all experiences?

This is an interesting and important narrative from a particular consumer but what I got out of this was–know who you serve and get to know them in the contexts and moments that matter–that’s just old fashion retailing.

Jerry Gelsomino
11 years 5 months ago

I think the best way to cater to Gen Y is to surround yourself with these opinionated individuals and listen to what they have to say…stop predicting, jumping to conclusions, and finishing there sentences for them.

“Money burning a hole in my pocket,” is an interesting phenomenon. Where is the money coming from? Those single parent households aren’t as flush as they used to be. And if the kids have money, was it given to them by parents who are forsaking their own purchases? The job market supposedly isn’t very strong for these kids recently entering the job market, so I hear.

And to again give the local perspective, there is indications that the same age group that we are talking about, here is Asia, is slowing down their consumption because of low paying jobs or none at all. These consumers had been targeted as fueling a good part of the economic growth of the region. We’ll see….

Vahe Katros
Vahe Katros
11 years 5 months ago

The amount burning a hole in their pocket is $100/week–let’s see:

1. Food & Drink & other: 0-100
2. Entertainment: 0-100
3. Additional Gas/Transportation
4. Additional Internet/Mobile
5. iTunes store
6. Tee Shirt
7. Other retail


Truth is, that’s pretty good ($100), I remember when I was broke and in debt in the ’80s – I think we were recessionistas as well, listening to a cassette copy of the Clash’s Sandinista.

The above is absolutely right, work with/hire Gen Y (hey you already do!)


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