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Why You Should Care That 72 Percent of Millennials Are Buying Less

When it comes to shopping your brand, consumers want to know: is it even worth it?

From delivery speed to convenience to social media to stores, Walker Sands talked to shoppers across the country to uncover what they really think about where retail is today—and where it’s heading in years to come.

Culminating in the Future of Retail 2019 report, the survey of 1,600 consumers confirmed the oft-repeated truism that millennials, more than older counterparts, place a greater emphasis on giving their dollars to sustainably minded companies—and look to new commerce models like rentals to help them more responsibly bring things of greater and long-lasting value into their lives.

No longer is your product alone good enough to get you noticed; how you do business matters to shoppers, too—especially to younger generations. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of people ages 18 to 35 claim they’re likely to favor brands and retailers that have made some sort of commitment to operating sustainably, an effort to put “sourcing and manufacturing practices under the microscope,” according to the report.

Closets full to overflowing are no longer an acceptable norm among conscious young consumers. Millennials are willing to experiment with renting their clothes versus buying them outright as a way to Marie Kondo their lives and be smarter about what they own, the data shows. Seventeen percent of those between 18 and 35 years of age have used a fashion rental service in the past year to try out new styles and refresh their wardrobe options without a long-term commitment, the report noted.

Factor in the 72 percent who say they’re buying less these days and the patterns of behavior point to a shift in consumption that could rewrite the rules of retail. Whereas baby boomers were enamored with acquiring one status symbol after another, Gen Z and millennials seem to be “less interested in material possessions than their parents.”

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Shopping online is as natural today as brushing your teeth, thanks in part to the deceptive ease and convenience for which Amazon is famous. If the Future of Retail 2019 report is to be believed, you just might be able to tell a millennial from a Gen X-er, based on how many of those Prime-logoed boxes are piling up on their doorsteps.

More than two-fifths (43 percent) of Gen Z and millennials say they’re fielding one or more Amazon deliveries every week, significantly higher than the 10 percent of all consumers also handling this volume of packages.

Another number that should give you pause? Thirty-five percent: the number of millennials who place a premium on “value through convenience” and are content to wait longer for a delivery from the Seattle-based commerce giant—provided it’s “easier than other options,” according to the report.

Citing the influx of technology fueling retail’s rapid evolution, Erin Jordan, author of the report and retail technology practice area lead and partner at Walker Sands, said, “Commerce is no longer about just creating a flawless online and in-store experience. It’s about leveraging channels to facilitate a deeper connection with consumers.”

And as consumers expect shopping will be a connected, convenience-driven experience that seamlessly aligns with their lives, “brands and retailers who are able to differentiate themselves by demonstrating their value to consumers will be able to build both convenience and connection to compete and succeed in today’s retail landscape,” she added.

Elsewhere along the shopping spectrum, convenience gives way to desire as young consumers admit to the sway influencers wield over their social-media-inspired buying. The bottom line: people don’t mind shelling out a little extra for something their lights their fires—as long as an admired influencer or celebrity vouches for it. Among shoppers 26 to 35 years old, 22 percent will spend more with a brand or merchant that’s been endorsed by a famous personality or influencer they follow, 9 percent more than all consumers who say the same.

When it comes to what else gets people to buy online, delivery speed and convenience are factors, but far from the only ones. A majority of consumers refuse to pay for shipping and on-the-house transport fees were cited by 77 percent and a big purchasing driver. However, shoppers also like to know they can return or exchange their goods at no cost (48 percent) or have their purchases shipped the same day (39 percent). Another 35 percent say next-day shipping incentivizes them to buy while one-fifth seem to be under the spell of Amazon’s super speedy Prime Now feature that gets orders to customers in just two hours.

And though it’s still early days for 3-D in e-commerce, 19 percent cite this feature as helping them decide to purchase and do so with confidence.

Other findings in the report confirms the resurgence of the brick-and-mortar store. Most consumers (65 percent) went to a physical outlet to purchase clothing, compared to those who shopped a brand’s website (24 percent), retail website (35 percent) or marketplace (33 percent) for their apparel needs. This is especially encouraging news as 24 percent claim shopping in store strengthens their relationship with the brand and helps them feel more connected.

According to Walker Sands, the report’s results speak to a “rise in niche shopping experiences.”

That’s because, once again, younger shoppers diverge from older consumers in how they want to shop for and purchase apparel and footwear. More than half (59 percent) of the youngest surveyed shoppers, 18 to 25, described an interest in enjoying a branded experience when on the hunt for new outfits, and also said in strong numbers (69 percent) that they were lured to a mall when they needed to buy clothing in the past year.

Retailers that aren’t already delivering on consumers’ growing expectations will have their work cut out for them, by all accounts.

“An increasing focus on sustainability, coupled with the influx of technology in the buying experience, has enabled a new wave of consumers who are more connected to technology and want a clear differentiation from a brand in order to purchase when it’s not the most convenient experience,” the report said. “True success for retailers in the future will be in the ability to bridge this gap.”