Millennials & Gen Z: The Impact of True Digital Natives on Luxury

Just as luxury brands were starting to understand millennials, Gen Z is now cropping up on the retail radar as well. What does that bode for luxury brands? What is the difference between the two generations?

By: Abhay Gupta, Luxury Expert, Author, Speaker, Professor of Luxury Management

Posted on: September 11, 2019

The luxury market is going all guns blazing, looking forward to another year ahead of growth across verticals, fuelled by various favorable factors. 

Millennials Gen Z Luxury Shopping

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% 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. The most prominent trend being noticed is the advent of luxury experiential micro-holidays rather than annual vacations. Short trips that offer unique and memorable experiences are on the rise wherein consumers are intentionally choosing offbeat locales in search of those Instagram-worthy unique experiences. This ‘millennial state of mind’ is now a widespread mindset 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 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 more about a lifestyle statement, an appreciation for all things fine and beyond excellence, wherein exclusivity and limited editions played a major role. For over a century, luxury brands across the world have managed to attract consumers based on this premise. However, for Gen Z and millennials, this premise is no longer attractive. Just because it's a famous logo, it wouldn’t necessarily convert to better sales than last year. Discountsmay 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, there is a strong shift towards popular lifestyle values, such as sustainability.  

Local shopping vs global brands

Millennialsvs 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. 

1. Purchase Patterns: While both Millennials and Gen Z are digital savvy, 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 technology has catalyzed this behavior, for Gen Z, it is more about the quality and service(adequacy, kindness, and quality of the staff).

2. 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% of millennials have higher customer experience standards than others. 

3. 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% Millennials expect companies to continue innovation in their products and services, whereas innovation is the new normal for Gen Z consumers.

4. Gen Z focuses on maximum ROI for their money, millennials seek experiences: Spoilt with choices, itis 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. 

5. 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, is focused on individuality, and brands that can cater to such individual tastes and preferences are in high demand.

6. 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. 

Online digital shopping

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 in-store retail shopping as well. Digital platforms and new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, blockchain technologies, cryptocurrencies, and augmented reality present opportunities for luxury brands to adapt their business models to meet the changing demands and stay abreast with the latest trends. 

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. 

Abhay Gupta Luxury ExpertAbhay Gupta is the founder, promoter and CEO of Luxury Connect (a boutique consulting organization) and Luxury Connect Business School (LCBS). He has helped establish luxury brands like Versace, Versace Home, Versace Collection, Corneliani, Arredo Classic, etc in India. Luxury publication Blackbook recognizes him as one of the ‘Top 100 Indian Luxury’s Most Influential’ for the past 6 years. He is also a recipient of the ‘Luxury Retail Icon 2012’ title by Asia Retail Congress. Having being featured in Forbes Luxury Trend Report 2012 as one of the industry leaders, he has also been widely recognized as a luxury expert by many media organisations. FondazioneAltagama has also recognized his contribution to the growth of Italian luxury industry by his pioneering efforts in India.

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