According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among youth remains at extremely high levels (26%), negating their ability to independently generate income. Meanwhile, for those living at home, the spigot of parental largesse has been severely crimped. Sensing the shift, Gen Y is playing its part: Aeropostale? and cheap chic is in, Abercrombie and conspicuous consumption is out.
When asked about holiday spending within our December 2009 Ypulse survey of 1,500 high school and college students, Gen Y certainly wasn't planning on spending more this year. Large discount retailers such as Walmart and Target effectively captured youth dollars with nearly two-thirds planning to shop there (62%), while online retailers such as Amazon (56%) looked to win big among collegians armed with credit cards and other forms of electronic payment.
As was the case with the rest of America, Gen Y clung stubbornly to its wallets, waiting for retailers to begin discounting. Nearly one in three (32%) waited until the middle of December to start shopping, while less than half (46%) began shopping prior to December 1. After years of extreme retail, Black Friday has finally lost its appeal in the minds of Gen Y, with nearly two-thirds (65%) not doing any shopping at all on Black Friday.
While kids are doing their fair share of careful shopping, they're under no delusions that they themselves will be receiving more gifts this year than last. Slightly more than two in five (42%) expect to receive less this year.
With less to spend and lowered expectations, one in four teens and one in five collegians decided to take a home-made approach to holiday gift-giving this year, creating art (29%), baked goods (25%), CDs & playlists (13%) or decorations (10%) as gifts for friends and family. This kind of low-tech response to adverse economic conditions is a trend worth paying attention to in 2010.
While this generation is indeed tech-savvy, marketers looking to unhook the purse strings of Gen Y by leveraging social networks or the mobile web were sorely disappointed. Gen Y considers social media to be tools for being social, not for bargain shopping or gift-giving. More than two thirds (67%) of youth did not plan on using social media for gift-giving, while fewer than one in five planned to use social networks to research gift ideas (19%), find discounts, coupons or sale information (19%) or to check the gift wish lists of family or friends (18%).
Similarly, more than three out of five members of Gen Y did not plan on using their mobile phones to assist in their holiday shopping with slightly more than one in ten using their mobile devices to take photos of gift ideas for themselves, their families or their friends while shopping (15%), to find store locations (14%) or to research prices (11%).
Above all else, this year the holidays were an expression of family for collegians and a welcome respite from the pressures of school for teens. Asked "What is the best part of the holiday season," students cited "spending time with family" most often (39%), and "time off from school" (34%) at levels that were better than four times higher than "receiving gifts" (7%) or "giving gifts" (7%).
While many are pegging their ability to fill their sails with the winds of recovery using high-tech approaches, a back-to-basics approach might tap into a deeper human response to the multitude of crises that Gen Y has endured.