How Millennials Shop During the Holidays

How Millennials Shop During the Holidays

When you think of 2016, you might think Damn, Daniel, Harambe (R.I.P), Bottle flipping, DJ Khaled, the election, and “Millennials.”

The idea of Millennials has been one of the most interesting topics of the past few years, and it’s only become more popular in 2016. Everybody has an opinion on Millennials.

This younger generation — one that I’m part of — has different values, perspectives, and opinions from the previous ones.

But more importantly, from a retail perspective, there are 75.4 million of us born between 1981 to 1997. We’re maturing as a spending group (and on average spending 33% more than we spent last year). 32% of Pinterest users are Millennials with household incomes of $100,000 or more.

Researchers have filled books with information on Millennials. This guy made a DVD. And we wrote a piece about why Millennials are so difficult to sell to.

Deconstructing the whole topic of Millennials in just one piece would be fun, but impossible to write (and read).

As a retailer, you don’t need to know everything under the sun about us Millennials to provide shopping experience we’d love. Here’s what you do need to know, supported by research from third parties, to understand how we shop during the holidays:

1. Accommodate Our Drive for Instant Gratification

Millenial Shoppers Crave Instant Satisfaction

The instant gratification you get from buying a product in-store is hard to replicate online, but ecommerce has gotten pretty close.

Shopify has partnered with companies like Postmates and Uber to enable same-day delivery for merchants.

It might seem excessive to deliver a product the same day it’s purchased, but back in 2014, 6 in 10 internet users said they would be willing to pay extra for same-day delivery, yet only 15% of business owners stated that they would be prepared to offer it due to high costs.

Similarly, a Coldwell Banker Commercial Affiliates survey, conducted by Harris Poll, says, “Millennials are more likely to make a purchase online if there is a same-day delivery option (64%) compared to other generations (56% of Gen Xers and 40% of Baby Boomers).”

In case you were wondering whether or not we Millennials would be willing to put our money where our mouths are, a PwC study says, “[Millennials] are willing to pay more for next-day delivery, sometimes up to four times more, far higher than older shoppers.”

For example, Spikeball uses same-day delivery to help differentiate their brand from competitors. This bet has paid off for them — Spikeball has grown 2,700% in eight years.

Same day delivery, especially to us Millennials, could be the difference between abandoned carts and completed purchases.

2. Step Up Your Online Retail Experience and Support

22% of Shoppers Do Not Plan To Shop In Store This Year

According to Rubicon Project, 22% of shoppers do not plan to shop in-store at all this year. 28% are projected to avoid physical stores this year entirely.

The study elaborates that 64% of these online and mobile-only shoppers tend to be Millennial males, and are most likely to be shopping for:

  • Gift cards (64%)
  • Apparel/accessories (57%)
  • Toys (46%)
  • Tech (37%)

Even if we shop in-store, according to PYMNTS, “72% [of Millennials are] saying they planned to shop online, 58% saying they planned to shop on their mobile devices and 21% saying they plan to make at least one purchase on mobile.”

SDL had similar findings with “60% of Millennials surveyed expecting a consistent experience from brands whether online, in-store or via phone.”

If you’re reading our blog, you probably already have a thriving ecommerce website. That’s a great start. But to move forward, your customer service needs to be reliable, helpful, and more responsive than ever.

Kylie Jenner uses Shopify Plus to Power Kylie Cosmetics

We care about customer service and hold it up to high standards. One way to meet this expectation is to be flexible in connecting with us.

Phone support is great, but it’s the cost of entry. Timberland’s communications ensure that customers can live chat, call, or even text message their in-house customer support team. After implementing their live chat service in 2015 and hiring four customer support agents to manage conversations, Timberland experienced a 47% increase in conversions due to more detailed and customized support.

3. Reach with New Methods and Unconventional Timing

84% or Millennials Do Not Like Advertising

“84% of Millennials said they do not like advertising,” according to The McCarthy Group. New, unique, ways of discovering our interests, connecting with us, and telling more compelling stories, is a creative challenge for any company looking to get the attention of people in the Millennial age bracket.

We like email. The American Press Institute finds

The American Press Institute finds email to be the most common digital activity for us Millennials. A study by Wanderful confirms this preference, which shows that we prefer brands to get in touch with us for holiday shopping by email over any other medium.

As Digiday highlights, we’re savvy enough to search for coupons before checking out. implemented a banner welcoming visitors who found their site by coupon, and this tactic increased their conversions by 6%.

If you’re going to advertise holiday deals or gift ideas, do it sooner rather than later. PwC says, “66% of Millennials plan to complete the majority of their holiday spending before December 1.” Moreover, according to this survey by Retale, 57% of us shop on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, whereas only 39% of other shoppers do the same.

Despite the typical idea of giving and unwrapping physical objects during the holidays, PwC reports that a growing proportion of Millennials and “selectionists” (shoppers with household incomes of over $50,000) are spending money on experiential gifts, such as travel and entertainment. Specifically, 12% are buying experiential gifts — and the segment is growing.

Even if your product is intangible, try capitalizing on this shift by advertising it as a gift.

4. We're "Self-Gifting" When We're Buying For Our Loved Ones

Self Gifting is Growing Every Year

'Tis the season for giving, but Deloitte says in a 2015 survey, “50% [of consumers] claim to also buy gifts for themselves when shopping for others...”

We are no exception to this. We spend a greater chunk of our shopping money on ourselves than other generations. PwC says, “In fact, [Millennials] spend close to double the proportion of their overall holiday budget on themselves as older shoppers—24% to 15%.”

The holiday spirit is about giving. But knowing that your Millennial customers like to treat themselves, you need to enable them to do so, and you might notice a bump in your business.

Harvey Nichols alluded to this tension between people giving to others and themselves. They gained nearly a million earned impressions when this series of award-winning commercials went viral on Youtube.

Image via: Mambo Media

On a related note, Portland State University’s Center for Executive and Professional Education generated 218 student registrations over the holiday period and increased their winter term revenue by $40,000 over the previous year. (Particularly impressive given how this product is way more boring than most ecommerce ones.) PSU accomplished this by sending an email campaign appealing to their Millennial students’ prospects for the future.

Despite this not being an example directly from retail, it’s a holiday campaign that targets our age group, and highlights the importance of appealing to our self-interest and aspirations.

5. Tighten Up Your Website

It’s been a tough year for security.


PwC says, “More than 40% say a security breach in the last 12 months would affect holiday shopping at a particular retailer. Millennials are even more concerned (52%) than shoppers over 35 (38%).”

According to a study by Blackhawk Engagement (via Data Mentors and Entrepreneur), “Millennials are sensitive to cyber security issues and identity fraud, and 64% of Millennials believe that gift cards are safer to use online than any other digital payment method. Moreover, 66% believe gift cards limit identity fraud.”

Here are some steps to make your site more secure:

  1. Secure your site with an SSL certificate. A study by Digicert shows that 65% of respondents would not buy from an unfamiliar website that didn’t have an EV SSL Certificate. Most people aren’t experts on SSL, but they can tell what sites are secure because of the green lock in the URL bar.
  2. As CIO recommends, you could choose a reliable and secure ecommerce platform to host your site. Shopify Payments are processed by Stripe, which meets PCI Level 1 compliance standards (the most stringent level of certification available). If you don’t use Shopify, you can still make your ecommerce site PCI compliant.
  3. Given the prevalence of social engineering attacks (where hackers don’t even touch the code, and instead con unsuspecting staff into sharing confidential information) you must train employees to make sure they’re not the weak link of security.

And naturally, many of these platform based security features are included at no extra cost for Shopify Plus merchants.

Final Thoughts

Selling to new audiences like us means trying new strategies and tactics. The research is a good place to start, but you must also experiment with your own ways of connecting with us.

If all else fails, consider it an investment in learning.

We’re going to be the largest spending group to come. Understanding us will be lucrative and good for business in the long-run.

About the Author

Herbert Lui is the creative director of Wonder Shuttle. He was a staff writer for Lifehacker, and his writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the New York Observer, and Fast Company.