US consumer habits evolve

24 April 2012

NEW YORK: Young consumers in the US are growing more distinct from their older counterparts when it comes to using digital channels in the purchase process, the Boston Consulting Group has found.

The consultancy polled 4,000 "millennials", or 16-34 year olds, and 1,000 consumers from older cohorts. It discovered that 60% of the former group rated goods and services online, versus 46% of the latter cohort.

Equally, 50% of BCG's more youthful sample had utilised a mobile device to read reviews and research products while out shopping, measured against 21% for the older panel questioned.

Turning to social media, 53% of millennials looked for information or engaged with brands on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and 33% favoured companies that were active on these sites, both 16 percentage points higher than for over-35 year olds.

Such a gap persisted when discussing activities regularly undertaken on the net, as 60% of 16-34 year olds uploaded videos, images and blogs, doubling the total logged by over-35 year olds.

With regard to device ownership, 59% of the first audience owned a smartphone, easily surpassing the 33% of participants falling outside this age range.

By contrast, just 26% of millennials watched television for more than 20 hours per week, compared to 49% of more mature interviewees.

As a corollary of this trend, 42% of under-35 year olds streamed broadcast material through internet platforms such as Hulu, whereas a far smaller 18% of people over this age did the same.

Despite these differences, the two segments shared some favourite brands in common, with Nike, the sportswear brand and Ford, the automaker, assuming this role, alongside Sony and Samsung, the electronics groups.

However, Apple, the maker of the iPhone, adidas, a sportswear firm and rival to Nike, and Target, the retailer, were all brands that over-indexed with millennials. Home Depot, the DIY chain, and Wal-Mart, the mass merchant, did so for older shoppers.

"On average, US millennials already shell out and influence the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars annually - an amount that will only increase as they mature into their peak earning and spending years," said Christine Barton, a partner at BCG.

"Those companies that truly 'get' this generation will have an opportunity to differentiate themselves and forge profitable long-term relationships with millennial consumers."

Data sourced from Boston Consulting Group; additional content by Warc staff