Retail Redefined

After reviewing a robust yet discount-driven Back to School shopping season, we took the temperature of the holiday shopping season in the week following Black Friday / Cyber Monday, investigating the holiday expectations of teens and collegians.

Students look forward to the holidays, not just because it gives them a respite from studying and exams (less than a third cited this as the best part of the holiday season). Spending more time with family is by far the best part of the holidays for Gen Y. This is a critical component to understanding this generation: they like their family, every last bit of it, and a desire to connect and share with others is woven into their generational DNA. As our editor in chief, Meredith Sires, points out, "the social currency of Gen Y consists of 'likes' and 'friends'" and they are not only tolerant of other generations, but include and involve them in their day-to-day existence.

Cynics might suspect a selfish motivation for being near friends and family around this time of year, but the expectations of Gen Y are decidedly circumspect in 2010. While more than four out of ten expect to receive the same amount of gifts this year, more than a third expect to receive less and only one in ten expect to receive more. Though we know this generation to be a pack of gadget junkies, tech toys fall behind clothes and entertainment items such as games, movies and music in terms of what they expect to receive as gifts. Interestingly, what they expect to receive the most this year are cash and gift cards, so chances are that electronics inventories will plunge in the post-Christmas retail crush. Given the fact that Gen Y is so much more advanced than their parents in terms of technological proficiency and preferences, what parent wouldn't defer the decision as to what's the best gadget for their kids with the downfield punt of giving a gift card?



In the holiday campaign of 2010, giving has stronger momentum than getting. While slightly more than four out of ten teens and collegians expect to give the same amount of gifts as last year, three in ten plan on giving more while less than two in ten plan on giving less. The trend of giving handmade gifts to others is much more pronounced among females than males, with more than a third of college females and two out of five teenage girls planning on making gifts for the people that they care about.

Handmade gifts aside, teens and collegians expect to shell out an average of $250 on gifts for others. Mom is the incumbent candidate, generating 85% of gift giving intent, followed by Dad and their siblings in and around the 70% level. Friends and romantic relationships are also important, with nearly two thirds of Gen Y planning on buying something special for a friend and almost half planning on getting something for a boyfriend or girlfriend.

With this much giving planned, Gen Y are looking to get the most bang for their bucks. More than four in ten lined up insanely early and braved the crowds on Black Friday with their primary motivation being the desire to take advantage of special sales and promotions. The entirety of Black Friday was not spent lining up for door busters ... kids generally broke from their bricks and mortar quests for bargains by noon and many spent the rest of the day checking out online deals. While two thirds limited their Black Friday experience to a store, nearly a third spent time in store as well as online and one in ten restricted their Black Friday experience to an online one. With classes back in session, Cyber Monday is less compelling for Gen Y, with only a quarter of kids logging on to make purchases that day, motivated to find deals that they didn't discover the week before.

While not yet reaching levels of ubiquity, Gen Y are rapidly ramping up their use of social media to research gift ideas, find discounts and check the wish lists of their friends and family. They are also beginning to use their mobile phones to find store locations, take photos of their shopping escapades and research prices. Around a third of Gen Y have adopted these techniques, with a rise of adoption evident between our back to school shopping research and our holiday shopping research.

Retailers should not stay on the sidelines of this brave new shopping experience much longer. Gen Y is actively experimenting with what retailers offer and is embracing anything that allows them to drive a better bargain or share their shopping experience with others. This generation is redefining retail, infusing it with what defines them most: the desire to connect, share and enhance, regardless of the context and across generations. If there's anything we've learned in our study of the holiday shopping habits of Gen Y is that they are deliberate, sophisticated shoppers who are changing the way that shopping is performed with a panoply of tools that sharpen and enhance their experience.

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