Watching Gen Y shop for Christmas - 5 Lessons


One of the most rewarding aspects of our work at Customer Faithful is what some call “people-watching”.  In practice, this is a mash-up of art and science, blending existing trends often from statistical data, and extending its insight with real-life observation of what customers say (and do). Regular visitors to this site will know that we have a particular interest in Gen Y or the Millennial Generation, so we’ve been out in the run-up to Christmas, watching them shop, both in High Streets and malls, as well as on-line.

What have we learned? Here are a few clues……..

  1. We’re here anyway – unlike the Baby Boomers who have made special, dedicated trips and plans for gift buying, Gen Y tend to meld their Christmas shopping into what they were already doing, and where they already were. For example, gift ideas and requests for suggestions came through friends on Facebook, often surfacing ‘in-the-moment’, rather than as a task to be tackled in social media. (Owners of  ‘sponsored’ ads in Facebook, take note.)
  2. Find An Item, Find a deal – once a gift idea appeals, Gen Y expect immediate choice and availability to buy. Even whilst continuing with other on-line tasks, they will quickly find a retailer, assess options - colour, size, ability to personalise, payment & delivery options. But again, less like Baby Boomers or even Gen X, many will then happily add in a price comparison or voucher-code site afterwards to make sure they get “the kick-back I deserve”. Loyalty to a retailer is hard-won from this generation. They tend to identify more with brands than where to access them.
  3. Get It On Display – in physical stores, we were struck by how Gen Y expect all product availability options to be on-shelf. Whilst older people might ask store staff whether additional stock is in the stock room, Gen Y are more likely to simply go somewhere else. We quizzed this with them afterwards and found a simple reason: they have grown up with the transparency of web shopping, and the idea of having to fight to find their size, their colour, etc. is very unappealing, almost unnatural. Unless they want that item really bad, expect them to find alternatives. Oh, and don’t be surprised if they vent their irritation on social media too.
  4. Why Call when you can Tweet? – back in the virtual world, we found that when Gen Y have questions about an item, they much preferred to tweet their followers (or even a retailer direct) than call a Customer Service line. In particular, they like the fact that they can hold multiple conversations this way whilst carrying on other tasks at the same time. Compare that to a telephone call, often being held in a queue, navigating IVR and paying for the privilege and you quickly see why Gen Y is such a smart shopper. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Gen X are catching up here, with as many as 1 in 4 now using online communities too to gauge product suitability (Source: BIGResearch)
  5. Wishing and Hoping – Gen Y may be a savvy shopper, but many don’t have the disposable income to actually make a purchase. We saw a lot of window-shopping (on and offline), having a real affinity for a brand, and perhaps longing for someone to buy them this item. The reality of today’s economy is that across Europe and the US, jobs for Gen Y are scarce. Retailers and brands need to take a long view with this generation, and to be patient with their attempts to woo a sale. Lead indicators of brand loyalty with Gen Y will be positive sentiment in social media - likes, re-tweets, followership and so on. Brands should be rewarding and nurturing this Gen Y crowd, not always for today’s purchase, but for future affinity and Christmases to come!

Demanding though Gen Y can be, the good news for retailers and brands is that, by meeting their needs for customer service, you’ll be impressing and exceeding the expectations of older Gen Xers and Baby Boomers too. It’s true that some of the on-line services may not be utilised that much by these older groups yet, but that is changing fast.

Want to find out more about how to attract Gen Y to your brand? Contact