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75% of Millennials still actively pursue what's cool and new IRL

Not all—or even most—product hunting happens online

Words by Kari Dean McCarthy and Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Delaney Gibbons

The what, where and how much in consumer purchases are exhaustively tracked. Big data for all our stuff pours in daily for slicing and dicing. And millennials, still the market du jour, remain of particular interest.

But what about the how and the why behind all all those purchases? Especially for our favorite stuff, the "big finds" we are excited to share, post and tell stories about. That on-point cinch bag or retro toaster. Those sick kicks. The content and discovery of all our most conversation-driving stuff is important to understand.

dscout researchers have dug into it -- twice. In 2013, we captured more than 1,000 instances of Millennials discovering and purchasing their “cool finds.” This year, we collected 1,250 more. Once a day for five days, 250 Millennials submitted a "great find" and told us not only the what, where and how much, but also the how and the why.

Two particular questions we aimed to answer:

  • What makes a purchase a great “find?”
  • How has the Millennial product "discovery" process changed in the 3 years since our first study?

What makes a great “find"

Participants had a lot of opinions on what nudges (or shoves) your average retail purchase into that magical “Find” territory. But in the end, the collective compass pointed to:

Uniqueness and Personality Fit
Millennials are looking for steady collection-builders, timeless classics, and must-haves. A find fits in with their individuality, whatever that might be, and is such a good deal or fit that it’s nearly impossible to say “no.”

Killer Price
If they’ve researched the item a ton, they can intuitively confirming the deal-ness of it. But even if it’s a totally new find, the inherent idea of an amazingly good deal or value was critical to an object’s categorization as a “find.”

Surprising Utility
Can’t live without it, but didn’t know it! They thought it was cool or interesting enough to give it a try, but then it really become a great find only after realizing how seamlessly it integrated with, and improved upon, their lives. Something about the find made it worth taking a shot on, and then its sheer usefulness transformed it into a “great” find.

Does mobile drive discovery?

The answer remains the same, then and now: The mobile generation reports their feet are still working. Mobile is not the Millennials ultimate go-to channel for discovering cool stuff...yet.

Millennials are still mesmerized by a in-store retail find. Many of our scouts’ video diaries mentioned being out shopping, or just out and about, when they came across their exciting item. Millennials enjoy the novelty that a retail store brings, and how it has borders, which the internet seems to have erased.

  • In 2013, participants reported just 5% of their “finds” were discovered via their mobile phones. By 2016, that rose nearly 10%.
  • In-person (“offline”) still accounts for more than half of discovery, and computers (online) still hovers around 30%.

Influences: Real world or Virtual

  • More than half of discoveries were first encountered in a physical stores, even though 80% of the group reported being Amazon Prime members.
  • For nearly 50% of all “finds, "physical store" was cited as at least one of the influential factors.

Seeing the continued importance of physical stores in both studies, we asked scouts how they view themselves as shoppers. Half said their experience is about 50/50 online and offline.

  • Only 25% of Millennials label themselves “online first,” citing the powers of convenience and user reviews.
  • Another 25% labelled themselves as “physical store first,” driven by the experience of touching and feeling a product, and the joy of physically discovering an item in real life.

Shifts in habits: Seek, Sift, Surface, Stumble

In the 2013 study, dscout identified four modes of behavior, each reflecting about a quarter of all “finds” that participants purchased.

In 2016, “Sift” activities increased while “Seek” activities decreased. Perhaps it’s harder to be “laser-focused” with so many options and so much information available.

As millennials mature, they are aware of an increasing caution with their purchasing trigger finger, even when a discovery is deemed a real “find.” Many said they’ve become more strategic in the past three years, using coupon apps, hunting for deals, and reading reviews...a lot of them. Additionally, they’re relying on social media for deals, spotting trends, and advice from trusted sources, like a bestie to Kim Kardashian.

Millennials also told us they’ve become more pragmatic, citing the pulls of non-student life -- what they called the “real world”-- forcing their hand in shopping habits. Many reported the replacement of all-day marathon mall shopping events, window shopping, and reckless spending with review-driven searches for long-lasting, quality items that will be a “good use” of their disposable income (which many said is lower now that they have bills/rent/loans to pay).

Finds of the future

Given the option of just one channel for all future cool discoveries, nearly 40% of participants chose e-commerce stores. Physical stores received just 17% of the vote, alongside a host of other even less popular online and offline options, such as apps, blogs or articles.

Clearly they enjoy the thrill of sifting, searching, stumbling, or seeking in the physical, real retail world. They’re so used to clicking/tapping/dragging/pinching, perhaps feeling a fabric or holding an item is where virtual reality will be pivotal in morphing the online purchase process into a true discovery process.

Interested in learning about how we fielded this study? Read the study design article here or watch the web clinic.

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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