Millennials & Gen Z: The impact of true digital natives

Written by: Abhay Gupta

This is an extract from the book The Incredible Indian Luxury Bazaar by ABHAY GUPTA. The book analyses the Indian luxury space, its consumers, challenges, solutions and more.

Gen Y & Z: The New Frontiers of Luxury Consumption

Millennial (Gen Y) and Gen Z consumers are proving to be the main growth engine in the luxury market, accounting for 30 per cent of luxury sales, yet fuelling a massive 85 per cent of all growth in 2017. But the younger generations are also reshaping what “luxury” is, thereby what luxury brands need to do to appeal to them. (Bain & Co).

With the advent of the millennial consumer coming of independent age, the consumer behaviour has steadily and drastically deviated from the previously defined norms of luxury. The centennial generation Z (or digital natives) are further seeking change necessitating luxury brands to take notice, innovate and offer products and services to suit their preferences.

In India, the last decade will be remembered as the decade when the middle class threw caution to the winds. The young ones now exposed to global brands, social media clutter and a raised standard of living, turned aspirational with a vengeance. The share of monthly discretionary expenses shot up from 10-20 per cent to 25-60 per cent. The middle class pursued the good things in life on the back of rising disposable incomes and consumerism.

Traditional priorities of savings changed from saving for a child’s marriage to saving for an international vacation. Travel apart, investing in health, buying expensive gadgets, luxury cars and club memberships, entrepreneurship and early retirement have emerged as the other offbeat goals Indians wish to pursue. “Absolute increase in discretionary expenses over 10 years would be 100 per cent. The share in household budget has gone up from 20-25 per cent in 2009 to at least 40 per cent now,” says Ashish Shanker, head-Investments, Motilal Oswal Wealth Management.

Rising lifestyle inflation is the new reality. Frequent gadget upgrades, purchase of fitness devices, private cab rides, gated housing complex charges, salon and spa expenses, pet-related spends and so on have pushed up the share of discretionary expenses. Thanks to online cab services, shopping and food delivery, people have got into the habit of spending more, without ascertaining the necessity.

A clear unifier for millennials is their penchant for spending, be it on travel, gadgets or apparel, a pattern captured well in Deloitte’s report, ‘Trendsetting millennials: Redefining the consumer story’. Travel is a preoccupation that takes up much of their income and features in practically every millennial’s short-term goals. This passion for vacationing is in jarring contrast to Gen X, who considered it a frivolous expense, best forsaken in favour of the crucial long-term goals.

One reason millennials are big on spending is because they have higher disposable incomes and fewer responsibilities. It is also a function of the ease of borrowing, not just in terms of taking loans, but also maxing out their credit cards. Most of them are buying new, expensive smartphones every 6-9 months not just because they want to be seen with one, but because the market is flooded with phones and are available on easy EMIs.

Several reports suggest that luxury goods sales in the year 2019 & 2020 will be dominated by brands that attract the most millennials and Gen Z customers. A more recent study by Bain & Company and Farfetch, an online luxury apparel, and accessories e-commerce platform suggests that almost 40 per cent of luxury sales by 2025 will be generated by millennial consumers. Furthermore, with the mass adoption of social media and digital technologies across generations, behavior patterns and expectations are changing all across.

This ‘millennial state of mind’ is now a widespread mind-set across the demographics wherein products and brands are chosen based on the values they represent rather than the intrinsic value of the product itself. It’s no longer enough to be the best leather handbag. Consumers additionally want the product to be made of ethically sourced raw materials with fair trade and sustainable production practices. Herein, lies the concern. With trends changing faster than the seasons, what is it that the millennials and Gen Z luxury consumers really want? What can brands do to stay ahead of the curve, identify upcoming trends and stay ahead of the curve?

Traditional Luxury Consumer Behaviour

Luxury Industry has always been of one that is more about a lifestyle statement, an appreciation for all things fine and beyond excellence rather than exclusivity and limited supply. For over a century, luxury brands across the world have managed to attract consumers based on this premise. However, for Gen Z and millennials the premise is no longer attractive. Just because it’s a famous logo, it wouldn’t necessarily convert to better sales than last year. Discount sales may drive sales up, however, the risk of being associated as a discount luxury brand can be catastrophic for the brand. What the millennials and Gen Z want are luxury goods that align with their value systems. More than ever, these value systems drive purchase decisions. While traditional aspects still appeal to a large demographic and are valuable marketing assets, however, there is a strong shift towards popular lifestyle values, such as sustainability.

Millennials vs Gen Z: Different Behaviour Patterns

Millennials are consumers born between 1980–1995 while Gen Z are considered to be the generation born between 1996 and 2015. This means that by 2025, millennials would be 30 – 45 years old while Gen Z would be 10 – 29 years old.  Both demographics hence will be key consumers in the luxury industry.

Purchase Patterns

While both Millennials and Gen Z are digital savvy, however, there are distinct differences in the purchase patterns. As per a detailed study by Research gate, while Millennials are aware of their purchasing power, have been known to “Want it all” and “want it now” and digital tech has catalysed this behaviour, for Gen Z, it is more about the quality and service (adequacy, kindness, and quality of the staff).

Experiences reign supreme with Millennials

As per a recent report by salesforce, millennials have higher expectations for customer experience and are willing to pay a premium for it. In fact, as per the report, 74 per cent of millennials have higher customer experience standards than others.

The Impact of .com and tech era boom

Growing through the years of man landing on the moon for the first time, the launch of Apple, IBM, Microsoft products, internet expansion and the mass use of internet, more than 80 per cent millennials expect companies to continue innovation in their products and services, whereas innovation is the new normal for Gen Z consumers.

Gen Z focuses on maximum ROI for their money, millennials seek experiences

Spoilt with choices, what is clear that Gen Z is a more cautious spender looking for the maximum bang for their buck. However, millennials are known to seek more novel experiences even if that means a more premium.

Millennials want authenticity, Gen Z wants individuality

Transparency and like-minded value systems have been a key demand by millennials from brands and companies alike. Gen Z on the other hand, are focussed on individuality and brands that can cater to such individual tastes and preferences are in high demand.

Gen Z prefers in-store shopping; millennials shop online

As per the salesforce report, with a boom in e-commerce and fast delivery, millennials prefer online shopping, however, Gen Z consumers’ research online first and then prefer to shop at a store. What this means is that both categories are actively researching their next purchase online and may choose offline or online stores to complete the transaction.

Digital Communications

Ultimately, Millennial and Gen Z luxury consumers anticipate communicating with brands across digital platforms. Even though digital technologies are changing the luxury retail landscape, millennial and Gen z consumers are still important for instore retail shopping as well. Digital platforms and new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, block chain technologies, cryptocurrencies, and augmented reality, etc present opportunities for luxury brands to adapt their business models to meet the changing demands and stay abreast with the latest trends.

Adaptation to Technology

Technology offers both demographics unprecedented connectivity across the globe and with the rest of the population. This makes generational shifts more rapid and frequent hence more important for luxury brands to keep their eyes on them. For luxury brands across the world, as the two generations mature, these continuously shifting preferences will bring both challenges and equally attractive opportunities.

This article was first published in the May 2020  edition of the print magazine.