Millennial Consumers: What Are We Thinking?

by Brittany McSorley


I am a millennial. This means several things:

  • I was born between 1981 and 1997 (ish—the range varies based on the phase of the moon at the moment you Google it).
  • I have strong opinions regarding the ranking of Disney animated classics.
  • Whenever a once-beloved thing becomes obsolete, I stand laughing amid the wreckage with the gleeful abandon of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
  • I really like brunch, for some reason? I am simply mad about brunch.
  • And my spending habits are important. My generation currently accounts for about a third of consumer spending in the U.S., and our influence is only growing.

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Ah, to matter. My elders, once able to control me by withholding trips to Blockbuster and boxes of Fruit by the Foot, now look helplessly upon me with a mixture of confusion and irritation. ‘What do you value?’ they whisper into the abyss. ‘What is it that you want?’ ‘Why can memes and memes alone plumb the depths of your unknowable heart?’ ‘Is Beyoncé becoming less of a big deal? Like, where are we on Beyoncé?’

There are so many questions, but we are often too busy taking Ubers and nursing anxiety to provide answers. However, just this once, I’m going to explain what makes millennials buy stuff. You’re welcome.


Word of Mouth

For the most part, millennials only trust other millennials. We still haven’t forgiven our parents for the Fruit by the Foot mind games, and we’re content to largely ignore Generation Z (apart from praising them for innovative and inspiring feats of activism—seriously, those kids are fed up and I am here for it).

This is all to say that if an Amazon product with 5,000 positive reviews is up against a product a friend of mine bought and loves, I’m going to choose door number two nearly every time. Marketing still matters, of course, but members of this generation look to each other for guidance in an unprecedented way. If you want a millennial to care about your product or service, get another millennial to vouch for it.


Affordability (Sort of)

Millennials have a lot going on in the financial struggle department. Student loans, stagnant wages, fancy lattes that, while expensive, make us feel worthy of love… And brunch! We can’t stop going to brunch!

We’re looking to save money wherever we can. Not to brag, but in our penny-pinching, we’re destroying traditional entertainment structures. Cable is a useless extravagance in a world where Breaking Bad is over. That’s just a fact.

But it isn’t simply that we want to spend less money. Like generations that came before us, we’ll hand over our cash if we’re convinced of a product’s value. That conviction is just harder to come by when we can instantly fact-check most marketing claims, by asking either the internet at large or actual humans we know.

In summary, don’t try to trick us. We’ve caught on enough to realize we don’t need NFL Red Zone. (In fact, nobody needs NFL Red Zone. Go hug your children, Frank.) Skip the flowery pitch, offer us a solution, and justify its cost.


Tech Appeal

Boy, do millennials love a gadget. We always have. Remember the Game Boy Color? Honestly, 1998 was the prime of my life. And we’ve come so far since then! Technology even talks now. Are there terrifying implications there? Yes, which is why I always thank Alexa after she sets a timer for me. I will be spared when the robots turn on us.

But tech advances are also making life easier for those that can embrace the breakneck speed at which they happen. Millennials let technology do a lot of work for us. Apps exist that can solve a good portion of our problems. (Except when it comes to matters of the heart, am I right? Siri can tell you what time the sun sets, but to what end, if Chad isn’t there to watch it with you?)

The point is, if you show millennials how technology can eliminate some hoop-jumping, we’re likely on board.


Social Good

Finally, despite the stereotype of millennials as self-absorbed phone zombies with only one thing on our minds (bottomless mimosas), we care about the social implications behind what we buy. My favorite example: I don’t know a single person my age who shops at Walmart, where workers’ rights go to die. Same goes for Chick-fil-A: if your company is known for discriminatory views, we’d rather go elsewhere for our fried poultry.

Millennials think carefully about where our money is going, so tell us whatever you can about the implications of buying from you. If we can do some good with our purchasing, we’re more likely to pull out our wallets.


Well, I’m out of brunch jokes, and so I end this piece, not with a bang but a chorus of hollow twenty-something laughter.