The Millennial Path to Purchase

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When you’re looking for answers sometimes it pays to ask a few questions. As action sports shop owners and product manufacturers look to figure out the purchasing priorities of an emerging generation of young consumers the researchers at TRU offer up some valuable insight into the minds of 20-somethings known as Millennials. Hosted by The North Face and the Outdoor Industry Association at the 2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, leading analyst Michael Wood shared the findings of an extensive survey that only scratches the surface of a market dominated by 1.5 billion young people world-wide.
Sharing the stage with a handful of local survey participants from Salt Lake City Wood kicked off the OIA biannual breakfast meeting with a reality check. This generation, born at the end of the last century, is coming of age with new technology and levels of social awareness that the outdoor industry must understand. In order to remain relevant to the interests of these new customers outdoor professionals have to know how they think. And though we’ve long been told of the tremendous buying power of Millennials OR attendees had a chance to hear their thoughts and opinions firsthand.

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Backed up by data gathered by TRU, a Chicago-based youth market research firm, Wood lead a thoughtful discussion with a panel of young men and women age 20 to 28 to reveal some of things that matter to them most when buying a consumer product. With a few observations that might seem obvious to some Wood helped put into context a few behavioral trends that savvy marketers can use to their advantage.

Word of Mouth
Collectively Millennials make most of their buying decisions based on extensive research online. And in addition to detailed product descriptions on company websites they also rely on personal recommendations from friends and peers.
“This is a group that trusts each other, more so than any other source,” Wood said. “Word of mouth is critical.”
Products used by people they know and trust get top propriety on the path to purchase. Those items that come most highly recommended typically get the Millennials’ attention.
“Across the board we’ve heard about these online reviews. Those are the gold standard,” Wood said. “But not just the quality of those reviews but also the quantity of those reviews. And when it comes outdoor gear the blogs and forums play a very key role.”

The “And” Generation
When it comes to specialty products function and performance are key. But for young people the look and style are not very far behind.
“We learned in this exercise that really they’re looking for both.” Wood said.
“This is a generation that expects that they don’t have to comprise.They’re expecting it all.”
Unlike their parents’ generation Millennials believe they don’t have to sacrifice anything when it comes to products they buy. In their minds function and style combine to create versatility. The modern consumer demands the best of both worlds
“It’s like getting two for one,” said Amber, one of the panelists.
“If you’re able to spend the same amount of money for one thing instead of two you’re getting more.”

Deciding where to buy
With easy access to availability and price information online, today’s consumer is constantly looking for the best deal. Low prices can certainly help to move merchandise but Wood said customers decide where to buy based upon a variety of different factors that add value to their purchases. Convenience, product selection, customer service, expertise and a shared interest in the community all play a vital role.
“They want to align themselves with not only brands,” he said, “but also retailers who are genuinely part of that community and perhaps are environmental stewards.”
Especially among outdoor enthusiasts consumers today are looking to support small retailers and companies who are actively engaged in the community that helps to encourage their outdoor lifestyle.
“They want to throw you a bone, they really do,” Wood said.” They recognize the value you’re providing.”

Common Social Bonds
Millennials look beyond their purchases in order to develop an overall relationship with both brands and retailers. They define much of their identity within their peer groups through the products they buy and support. Those companies that represent their aspirations as outdoor athletes or devotes of the active lifestyle broadcast to the world who they are, what they believe in and what they most want to become. Wood said the Millennial generation wants products that are inclusive rather than exclusive, that reflect the growing diversity of our multi-cultural society and encourages participation without making it a prerequisite to be part of the group.
“The more the merrier,” he said. “They want to go to the cliffs and they want to go to the mountains and they want to bring their friends with them.”

Technology Encourages Participation
With the advent of camera equipped smart phones and social media young people today are sharing their outdoor experiences online. In the process they’re encouraging others to participate as well.
“Even when young people are alone they’re alone together,” Wood said. “They are constantly connected and they expect to be connected in every aspect of they’re lives. When they’re solo, they expect to bring their friends and family along for the ride.”

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Though the previous generation went outdoors to find solitude Millennials are using technology to enhance and to share the experience. They use services like Facebook and Twitter to engage their friends at home when they’re in the field.
“We are a generation that wants to let people know what we’re doing, and kind of brag about it.” said Josh on the panel. Young people today seek out approval of their peers through social media and try to encourage them to follow their lead.

“On Facebook, if you’re seeing your friends outdoors doing something you’re going to want to do it,” said Lesley another panelist. “And if you don’t have the equipment that they have you’re going to want to buy it.”

The path to purchase comes full circle as Millennials make their recommendations to friends online. Outdoor industry professionals looking to tap into this market should be ready with a variety of web-based resources to help facilitate their discussion. Blogs and online forums hosted by well-informed experts go a long way toward influencing the purchasing decisions of young consumers as long as they are honest and offer an unbiased opinion.
“It’s easy to tell the fake reviews or the fake blogs by someone who’s paid to write it,” one panelist said. “I want someone authentic. I want to see someone blog about it in action.”

Fortunately the Millennial generation is very eager to communicate and share their thoughts with the companies they support. An open dialog facilitated online through social media can help create that solid relationship with customers and ultimately drive sales. When the Outdoor Industry Association makes the complete findings of the TRU survey available in the coming weeks specialty retailers and outdoor product manufacturers will be well served by listening to what this new generation has to say.

The Joy Trip Project is made possible with the support sponsors Patagonia, Rayovac the New Belgium Brewing Company and the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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