Millennials as customers: How digital natives are reshaping the way of doing business

Could you imagine how your daily life would look like without the presence of the Internet? What about your social life if Facebook did not exist? Or if smartphones had never been invented? If your answers are somewhat between “Yes, though I am so grateful those prehistoric times are over” and “Meeeeh, not really” then you are most likely a millennial. Our digitalized lifestyle compared to prior generations is causing major changes in how companies have to target us, embracing that for our generation the digital world is a must.

Millennials, also referred to as Generation Y, are generally considered the people born between 1980 and 2000. During the turn of the new millennium the world experienced the rise of the digital age, which contributed to millennials being acknowledged as the first generation of digital natives. Every generation experiences pivotal changes in history that make them characteristic and bond them together. For us, those moments occurred in a technological, media-saturated world: Facebook, YouTube, Google, iPhone, WhatsApp… just to name a few. Having grown up with the Internet, smartphones and social media right at our fingertips, for millennials the digital transformation does not symbolize disruption but our generation’s most valuable treasure. While the following generation (Generation Z) is also recognized as digital natives, our main differentiator is that we experienced and still remember a world not controlled by Facebook likes, shares, tweets, and selfies.

Millennials are characterized by specific experiences and behaviors that distinguishes us from those who are considered digitalimmigrants (basically our parents and prior generations). Constantly surrounded by technology, a high percentage of whatever we do in our daily life is digitalized: socializing, purchasing, researching, working, enjoying multiple kinds of hobbies… the list goes on and on. The digital existence and connectivity is so integrated in our daily lives that we got to the point of sleeping with our smartphones, just in case we feel the need to answer a WhatsApp message when sleepwalking, you know.

So, now that we got a taste of who we are, how we are and why we are this way, the next question that arises is how all this affects the business panorama. Representing one of the largest generations in history, millennials are in nowadays businesses’ spotlight as we are emerging as today’s leading group of customers. But, how do our characteristics and behaviors translate into changes in purchasing practices businesses need to adapt to in order to better serve us as customers? In a nutshell:

1. From physical to digital interaction

Being digital natives also makes us the generation with a higher percentage of online purchases. In other words, our technological bond is transforming the retail space. Compared to how prior generations used to shop, we highly rely on technology for accessing product information, comparisons and reviews. Services such as Ebay made it possible for customers to search, compare, review, buy and even return their products without the need of physically going to stores. Therefore, high digital presence and positive interaction with millennial users is key for brands, since as natural social media users we can become a brand’s greatest advocate but also their worst critic.

2. The drivers of a digitalized sharing economy

It is by now pretty obvious that our main priorities have experienced a shift compared to those of our previous generations. We are master procrastinators of life milestones such as marriage, parenthood and home ownerships. And to be honest, this disinclination towards ownership is not only applicable to houses, but also items such as cars or music. Drivers of the era of services, and fostering a shift from material ownership to intangible access of services, our generation is sparking what is called the ‘sharing economy’. Think of services such as Blablacar, Uber or Airbnb, which allow you to instead of purchasing or leasing from businesses, to directly rent other people’s cars or homes through the internet. These kind of services are giving rise to immense digitalized networks of people sharing their goods on a direct one-on-one basis.

3. Keeping track of physical and mental well-being

We are the generation that is most aware and convinced of the significance of a healthy lifestyle. Taking special care of both our physical and mental welfare, we give great importance to achieving a balance between work and our personal life. Millennials are boosting the use of apps that facilitate things such as physical and mental training, mindfulness or healthier dieting. Countless apps for those purposes can be found every time you open the App Store or Google Play, such as Headspace and Buddhify for meditating, Jefit and FitStar for working out, Runkeeper and Runtastic for running, Lumosity for games to exercise your brain, and the list goes on and on. It is here where we are willing to spend much money on.

4. Obtain more at a lower cost

The rise of the digital age has put basically everything in our hands and has given us a platform to reach the world. With nearly limitless access to information and following a desire for multitude of options, we want the best, the cheapest, and the fastest offerings. Hence, millennial consumers are shifting towards brands that offer maximum convenience at the lowest cost. Think of how you would book a flight now. You would most likely go to a website for comparing different flights (like Skyscanner or Kayak) so that to get an overview of the best flight depending on factors such as price, length, time or even exact departure and destination location. We do not focus on the brand, but on the best and cheapest offering for us.

We are all aware that the world is constantly evolving and businesses need to adapt to changes in order to stay competitive. While there are many influences to take into consideration, understanding how customers think and behave is crucial for that purpose. Millennials, as the largest population and hence the biggest generation of customers, are key players in nowadays business game. Companies need to embrace that for us the digital world is implicit in our daily lives. Addressing us and making themselves available through digital platforms, leveraging our service-oriented attitude, targeting our wellness mindset and offering the best quality-price relationship have become crucial ingredients for business success. It is not merely about adding more technology to the equation but about putting effort into gaining a deeper understanding of what drives us, what we need to feel supported and what is genuinely valuable for us.

This article was originally published in the Issue 57 (July 2016) of Turn The Page, the student and alumni magazine of Study association i.d from the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology.