There is no such thing, really, as a millennial. The generation lumped together — aged roughly between 18 and 34 — can hardly be characterized in broad brush strokes. There are, after all, 75.4 million of them in the U.S. alone.
The generation spends an estimated $600 billion a year on clothes, $200 billion more than Baby Boomers, whom they slightly outnumber, according to Adroit Digital. Good luck marketing to them, though. They are single parents, rich entrepreneurs, college students mired in debt — and everything in between. Retailers today are having to come at them from every direction: Online, on mobile, through social media, as well as traditional brick-and-mortar.
In terms of how millennials actually shop for their clothes — what they look for, and how they make decisions — numerous research reports have come up with a dizzying array of results. Millennials expect brands to cater to them; Men supposedly shop online more than women; And just because they’re in a store, doesn’t mean they’re likely to buy before doing research. Thirty-two percent of millennials will whip out their phones in store to check reviews about a retailer or product, according to a PwC report.
Research on millennials yields a batch of contradictions as numerous as millennials themselves. An Accenture report says 41 percent of millennials showroom — look for things in stores, then go online to buy them at the cheapest price. At the same time, the same report said millennials are very loyal, seeking personalized discounts for their loyalty. So which is it?
So, to get an idea of how millennials really shop, we decided to ask them ourselves. We stopped a range of young people on the streets in Manhattan to grill them on their shopping habits. Here are a few highlights:
How do you shop?
I do most, if not all, my shopping online. I hate going into stores because they’re chaotic and waiting in line to try on or check out drives me nuts. Browsing online is more satisfying because everything is easily laid out in front of you.
What about the fit?
I sometimes buy two of something in different sizes so that I can send one back, but I can usually look at the item and tell how something will fit me, it’s a practiced talent.
Sounds like it.
I also like the reviews, and after a little a research a discount or deal can always be found. I refuse to pay full price for anything because I know a good sale will happen soon.
You’ve hacked the system.
I have. My whole outfit was bought online, apart from my shoes [Chuck Taylors] it’s all American Eagle. None of it I paid full price for because I found discount codes for everything.
Occupation: Works in strategic partnerships
What’s your go-to method for shopping?
It depends. If I’m browsing I like to go on different sites, look for sales, new products in style, what’s come up on blogs. I’ll then add things to my cart for a couple of days. If I’m looking for a certain product I’ll find what stores are carrying it and then window shop online until I find a product I like, but I won’t buy it at that time.
When I find something I like I want it right away, and not a lot of places do free same day shipping. I really want these John Varvatos boots that I’ve seen recently I went onto the site and they’re $700. I put them in my “bag” and they’ve been there for three days now. I need another nurturing stage online for me to buy them, or to see them in person. My experience needs to be online and offline.
In an ideal world what does that online and offline experience look like?
Say I found black jeans on Zara and put them in my cart, then I walk into a Zara a week or two later, maybe there’s a way to ping me and say, “You’re at the store, you were looking at this item, we have it in stock.” That would be interesting because it’s right place right time.
Occupation: Works in finance
Nice Patagonia vest.
Thanks, I got it at the store in SoHo.
Is that how you do most of your shopping?
I’m caught between traditional walk-in brick and mortar browsing and the e-commerce boom. I like looking at things online, but I prefer to go into a store to try things on. I usually go to a store knowing what I want, walking around malls and shopping districts frustrates me.
So you like in-store to be sure of fit?
Pretty much. I don’t have the tall, slim hipster body that seems to be all the rage, so the universe of what’s available to me has somewhat narrowed.
You’re not giving off a hipster vibe.
I’ve noticed that my style has changed to fit my work environment better. I never thought I’d be wearing loafers out on the weekend.
Occupation: Office manager
Online or in-store?
Mostly online. I like to take my time and I also know exactly what I’m looking for, so I feel that’s easier online than searching around a store. If I’m looking for a specific coat or dress I’ll look at every page and read reviews, I really take those into account.
Yeah, I really like the real pictures of people who’ve bought something and submitted it of themselves wearing it and who’ve written a review.
Do you spend more money online than you would in a store?
If there’s a promo code, yes. I end up buying way more than I normally would have, especially if it’s “today only.”
Occupation: Studio assistant
Do you prefer shopping online or in-store?
I’ll browse online, but I make a lot of carts that I’ll never buy. It’s like window shopping that you don’t have to leave the house for.
So you’ll go to a store if you’re actually buying something?
Yeah, because I have a curvy body. I have a small waist and a lot of butt and thigh so it’s not trustworthy to buy something online. I’d rather try it on to know it fits. I also don’t like returning things in-store or online, I don’t like the hassle so I’d rather be sure from the get go.
Occupation: Works in retail
How do you feel about online shopping?
When I shop online I often get an item that’s too big, or I thought it would fit me a certain way or like the way the retailers thought it would fit everyone. It may be because of the material or it wasn’t put together like other shirts, that’s the reason why I definitely prefer brick-and-mortar. When you go into stores you get to meet people and get ideas, I really like that experience.
Do you think you’ll shop online in the future?
Yeah definitely. For some reason in store associates have gotten nastier, it often feels like you’re bothering them.
Photography by Caity Arthur and Jemma Brackebush.