Visual Communication

Are Millennials as Brand-Biased as We Think?

By Lindsay Pietroluongo - 6 min read

Millennials shop at stores that their parents have never heard of, that require an app or a social platform to access, that don’t carry clothing anyone over the age of 40 would wear. Right? Not at all.

The stores that are popular with millennials will surprise you: JCPenney. Walmart. Kohl’s is a big one. And Amazon – Amazon is the store, which is more platform bias than brand bias.

This is not to say that millennials aren’t shopping at other retailers, but just that they’re shopping at traditional retailers more than we may assume. They’re also shopping at traditional retailers in an untraditional way. According to The Robin Report, “A large proportion of younger consumers spend most of their money on fashion categories in e-commerce channels, with clothing the highest penetration.”

Before we move on, let’s quickly define millennials. They were born between the very early 80s and the mid-90s, which makes them in their early 20s to late 30s as of 2019. Some have just graduated from college, some have started families, and all of them are going through life changes that spark financial changes that then impact the retail industry.

Millennials are starting to make more money, which is influencing where they’re shopping. Their go-to brands are changing as their wallets get thicker, and spending is expected to grow by almost 40% over the next decade or so.

What Do Millennials Want from Retailers?

The last couple of Love List reports from Condé Nast and Goldman Sachs, which cover the future of retail, have pointed out that both female and male millennials love Nike – a lot. Why, though. Simply because it’s Nike? Because it’s what athletes wear? Is it that checkmark-like swoosh? Or is Nike doing something that other brands aren’t – and if that’s the case, what can competitors learn from them?

The point here is that to simply say “millennials like [insert brand]” is misleading. Today’s 20- and 30-something consumers want much more than stuff. Their true preferences aren’t in the physical products at all. Instead, they want authenticity, convenience, technology, transparency, value…

Their investment is in the experience – the experience offered throughout the shopping process, the experiences they’ll reap once they purchase the products – but not in the things themselves.

Millennials want:

Brick-and-mortar stores that are easy to navigate, have a large selection of big name brands and have great prices and frequent sales. Deals and discounts so money can be invested in other experiences, like travel. (This opens up an interesting marketing question for fashion brands – how can their clothing contribute to the experience the customer is looking for?) Eco-consciousness. Having something shipped is considered wasteful. Between transportation and the packaging, the carbon footprint is a concern.

Low angle view of female friends standing against old wall

The “It Girl” or Guy

The “It Girl” and the “It Guy” are defined as fashion-conscious men and women, usually affluent, who spend more money in physical stores than the typical millennial. Interestingly, the more wealthy the shopper, the higher the savings they want. For these shoppers, the in-store experience is part of the appeal, from customer service to events.

The It Girl tends to be on Instagram, too, sharing her outfits as she tries them on in the dressing room or as an OOTD. She’s browsing Instagram, too, checking out the fashion influencers she’s following and connecting with brands on her favorite social platform. Some are even highly aware of how many times they’ve worn the same outfit on Instagram, which is a driver for looking for better deals – they want to buy more clothing.

People with arms outstretched while standing on escalator

The All-Encompassing Need for Convenience

Shoppers who are invested in fashion are more likely to go into a physical store than order online. Why? It’s pretty simple – trying on clothing lets you see the fit, which is an easier process than ordering, trying on, not liking how something looks, sending it back…

Convenience is king when it comes to shopping, but it has to be balanced. In-store shoppers don’t get the convenience of ordering online and therefore want curated options, lower prices and better promotions – and if they don’t get that type of experience, they’ll go elsewhere.

It works the other way, too. The inconvenience of ordering clothing online and then having to return it can be balanced by offering free shipping or free return shipping (or both).

Final Thoughts

Millennials like many of the same stores that older consumers like. By assuming that there’s brand bias even when the statistics don’t back that up, companies run the risk of alienating an audience they didn’t even realize they have. The key is in the focused marketing – millennials are still on the younger end of shoppers and they have to be catered to in a specific way.