Online Shopping Habits of Millennial Buyers

It is impossible to turn on the news these days without hearing about the changing retail landscape. Brick and mortar stores are shutting down at an increasing rate, as the shift to online shopping becomes more prevalent. Retailers who don’t adjust to the changing shopping climate cannot compete. While many factors are driving the changes, one of the largest contributing elements could be the influence the Millennial population has on the retail world.

Who are the Millennials? 

Millennials can most easily be described as the current up and coming adult population. They were born in the early 1980s to the mid-1990s and are the first generation to come up almost completely ingrained in technology. They have a reputation of being the “Now Generation” and are seemingly glued to their smartphones. It is estimated that by the year 2020, Millennials will make up over a third of all retail sales. 

Where do Millennials Shop?

An interesting twist on the Millennial consumer is that studies seem to indicate that they do most of their research on their smartphones but only 40% of purchases are actually made online. That being said, this number is on the rise. Several factors seem to contribute to this with the fact that fewer Millennials possess the credit cards needed to make online purchases than the generations before them. This could be because big bank lending regulations have tightened the reins on one’s ability to obtain credit, and also because many of them are just now coming into adulthood to even be able to make their own purchases. 

The latter is evidenced in the fact that older Millennials are more likely to make purchases online than the younger half of the generation who tend to shop in brick and mortar stores. The younger group are all in their late teens and early twenties who, until recently, were still being dropped off at the store by a parent, and spent time with their friends in malls. As they enter the professional world and have less free time to spend in physical stores, the number of their online purchases will start to increase. 

What brands do Millennials Shop for? 

Research indicates that Millennials display varying capacities of brand loyalty. While the generations before them were loyal to brands like J. Crew and stores such as Nordstrom because they knew what to expect from quality or sizing, Millennials are more interested in shopping for the best value and deal. With a smartphone in hand, they will spend more time researching a particular product, reading online reviews, and seeing what their peers have to say about a brand on social media before they make a purchase. They post questions to Facebook (older Millennials) or Reddit (younger Millennials) and care deeply about the influence and experiences others have had with that product. If a company has treated the Millennial and his or her friends well, if they have been wowed by the customer service experience, 60% of Millennial shoppers say they will remain loyal to a particular brand. 

Another important factor for Millennials is brands who give back to society.  While the generation has been viewed as very self-focused, one of the most important values to Millennials as a whole is making a positive impact. If a company is known for being earth friendly or contributing to worthy causes, the younger buyers will be more prone to try their products than to stick with something that is tried and true. 

SmartPhones are the Shopping Future

As more Millennials move to their smartphone for e-commerce purchases, they are showing that they make more impulse buys by means of additional purchase discounts, or social media influence. From unboxing videos to tagging brands in posts, the Millennial buyer is showing that social media is king when it comes to sharing their purchases and influencing their peers. Once an item is shared across the various social media channels, the buyer’s circle of influence tends to follow suit. Brands are who are catching onto this trend are ensuring they are engaging with their customers on sites like Instagram or Twitter and are utilizing both micro and macro influencers to their advantage. 


Moving into the future, it is clear that Millennials will be making more of their purchases online than ever before and sharing those purchases with their friends on their various social networks. Additionally, brands who are looking for loyalty know that they have to provide outstanding customer service, finding ways to personally touch their consumers throughout the transaction to make the experience both pleasant and memorable. The Millennial population is expected to become the largest consumer population, surpassing the numbers of Baby Boomers within the next couple of years, and will be pouring trillions of dollars into the economy. Understanding their buying habits, and what inspires them is going to be essential for retailers to compete.