Millennials/Gen Y All Over Online Retail, Less so Trips to the Mall

Let me share a study from around a year ago that highlights shopping behavioral trends of Generation Y (Millennials defined as those 18-35/born from ~1978 to 1995). The study, put together by the Urban Land Institute, finds that 91% of Gen Y made online purchases over the last six months.

Meanwhile, some 45% spend more than an hour per day looking at retail-oriented websites! And you thought those guys were working.

​As a Millennial, I swear I’m working!

This is interesting by itself, but it’s all the more interesting in light of the study’s findings around where Gen Y lives and where they shop. Seems that some 90% of Gen Y visits stores like Walmart and Target as well as Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club at least once a month, no matter where these Millennials live (e.g. from living rural to downtown). Nearly 70% of Gen Y visit these places 2 or more times a month. Take a gander at the data (added highlighting, mark-up, and logos per me — logo’s were pulled from the report’s cited definitions of these categories):


Great news for your discount stores.

By comparison, when it comes to shopping at malls, only about 64% of Gen Y frequents stores like Sears, Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Dillard’s, and Bloomies. Worse, nearly 35% of Gen Y/Millennials never or rarely go to these department stores.

When it comes to how Gen Y prefers to shop — at least when it comes to buying clothes — the ULI study found that 20% of Gen Yers/MMs like to order online or research online and then go in-store (12%). And there’s a decent showing here for branded and department stores, too, so while the mall may not be an exciting place to visit in total there’s still interest from Gen Y in buying clothes at department stores:


What to do about Gen Y?

Seems the takeaway is fairly obvious: Millennials/Gen Yers like to shop online. They outright enjoy it and it’s now normal behavior (91% in the past six months!). That said, they aren’t as likely to frequent department stores with a whopping third rarely or never going to stores typically found in malls. While that could be scary for department stores, their way “in” to this younger generation is the Internet. Show’em your moves!

I own this minivan. And I’m a Millennial. Wha-what? Honda Odyssey FTW!​

Snack Shopping in the Mobile Margins

Two recent reports — one from LiveIntent and the other from Custora — look at emerging trends in mobile shopping behavior.  LiveIntent’s report is email-focused (e.g. 14 minutes of every hour on mobile is spent with email) but, I believe, still illuminates mobile behavior in general.  Take a look at this shot from their report:


As Cynthia pointed out, and what’s interesting about the data above, is that while smartphone and tablets have the highest conversions during the middle of the day (similar to desktops), clicks on these devices are happening the most in the evening, boosting conversions via the mobile channel at a time when desktop conversions are on a steady decline.

What’s going on in the evening that’s driving this behavior?

Separately, we’ve got data from Custora that indicates almost 37% of e-commerce visits are coming from smartphones (24.5%) and tablets (12.4%).  However, only about 23% of orders are coming in via this channel, and even less revenue (18.2%), proportionately:


What’s the takeaway?  I think it has to do with how mobile devices are most used in the margins of our lives.  Mind, we have a lot of “marginal” time — the two minute commercial break, the grocery store line, the trip from upstairs to downstairs in our homes, the lull in conversation at a meal, etc. These moments which happen throughout the day — we fill them with an email check, a Facebook update, a hop into an app, a quick message to a friend, whatever.

Smartphones fill in these margins.  (For good or for bad).

Small increments of interaction mean we must get in and get out.   Just because we are on our phones doesn’t mean we can spend 15-30 minutes on them in a single session.  Think about how digital and technology improvements are affecting our patience.  We expect sites to load fast or we are gone.

As the Custora report puts it, we snack on mobile.


Or how about when we see an email from a friend (or for work) that requires a lengthy response: how likely are you to take the time to respond at length?  I save those emails for my PC because it’s way, way too taxing for me to type on my smartphone or tablet.

That said, if I’m snacking on a minute of mobile distraction and hop onto a retail site, well, if that experience is fairly seamless and quick, I can be in and out, purchase made, and on with my day in a flash.  The key is that it’s painless and easy.

For that reason, while mobile interactions may often be “local” in intent (e.g. we are looking for a local store to buy some product), it’s often the case we’re just filling marginal time — time in front of the TV or relaxing around the house.  Interest piqued and a few minutes to spare glued to our phones, we’re apt to shop right then and there.

But retail sites need to be efficient in getting us in and out of the e-commerce experience.  Because our mobile device time is innately a snack—not a meal.

Retailers best take advantage.