As Millennials—defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—emerge as the largest age cohort, retailers continue to struggle to find ways to understand them, much less appeal effectively to these distinct shoppers.

Germany, Berlin, Teenage boy using mobile phone

The challenge is notable because of the ways that Millennials differ from the last big age cohort, the Baby Boomers. Whereas Boomers have tended to be highly brand loyal, Millennials are ready to shift purchases across brands for virtually any reason, especially a better price. Boomers actively sought to acquire symbols of their success, such as large suburban homes and nice cars. In contrast, Millennials are largely putting off home ownership, even if their incomes might enable them to carry a mortgage.

Moreover, Millennials are unique in the variations in their behavior. For example, they might shop regularly at a low priced grocer to find the lowest price for their sandwich bread but visit a high-end bakery once a week and spend $10 on a luxury cupcake. A recent survey of some of their favorite brands featured both the low price retailer Target and the luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton.

For marketers, the challenge is determining when, where, and how to meet the diverse and ever changing needs of the consumers. PepsiCo realized that many of these young consumers like to exercise first thing in the morning, leading them to demand a breakfast beverage other than juice or coffee. In response, it innovated an am version of an energy drink, Kickstart, which combines Mountain Dew flavors with the promise of 5 percent juice.

The mattress industry has faced more challenges in dealing with the troubling realization that many Millennials continue to live with their parents, even after finishing college and entering the workforce. Thus they have little need for a mattress or box spring; they just keep using their childhood beds. An industry report suggests options to appeal to them, such as holding online contests or sponsoring a concert. But if their high school bed still works, it seems unlikely that a web contest can get these fickle consumers to spend hundreds on a mattress they have no plans to use.


Dionne Searcey, “Marketers Are Sizing Up the Millennials,” The New York Times, August 21, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com