The Top Emotions Driving Young Consumers’ Spending Right Now

Aug 10 2020

All emotions seem to be heightened right now, but this is the one most likely to drive Gen Z and Millennials purchases during COVID…

Our recent trend research on Retail’s New Reality explored what shopping looks like for Gen Z and Millennials now and in the future, and we found that there is a clear pent up desire for shopping: three quarters of 13-39-year-olds say they miss shopping in stores. Of course, most of their shopping has migrated to ecommerce instead, with the majority agreeing that until there is a vaccine, they will do the majority of their shopping online. And the emotions around shopping have shifted online as well.

In normal times, purchases are motivated by a huge range of emotions, from anxiety and a craving for calm to the desire for an emotional boost. But in these times, when everything is different or shifting, it stands to reason that the emotions around shopping have been changing as well. So, what are the top emotions driving young consumers purchases now? We turned to our on-demand research tool PULSE to get real-time answers from Gen Z and Millennials. We asked young respondents to tell us the feelings that have motivated them to make a purchase during COVID—and though this has been an anxious time full of “panic buying,” anxiety was not the top emotion they say is making them shop:

According to our PULSE survey, the top emotion driving Gen Z and Millennial purchases right now is actually boredom. Though it may surprise some, with quarantines dragging on in some areas and being reinstated in others, and COVID cancelling so many of their summer plans (from trips to concerts) young consumers are bored. And many of them are shopping to get things to relieve that boredom. We know that staying entertained has been a top priority during quarantines, and that has translated into a retail opportunity. Our new No Place Like Home trend research shows that a third of Millennials have purchased leisure activity items, and a quarter have purchased tech for in-home entertainment since COVID started.

But they’re also turning to shopping as entertainment in its own right. The majority of 13-39-year-olds tell YPulse that because of Coronavirus, they won’t go out shopping for fun as much as they did before—and that shopping for fun is also moving online. When we asked in our PULSE survey about an array of shopping behaviors that they might have engaged in because of COVID, “bought something because I was bored” was one of the top responses:

There are an array of big insights here for brands—new hobbies are driving purchases, young consumers are more open to trying new products and retailers these days, to name a couple. But young consumers’ boredom might be the biggest opportunity, with over two in five saying they have bought something because they were bored during COVID, and over a third reporting they have spent more than they usually would on entertainment at home.

Over two in five also say that they have bought something to boost their moods during this time—something that we predicted would be the case when we said the Treat Yo-self mentality would be accelerated by COVID. With a recession mentality baked into them at a young age, spending on things they don’t need can still feel “wrong”—so they’ve looking for a reason and rebranded retail as self-care. The “treat yourself” mentality has given them permission to buy things that they might not think are justified otherwise, with 92% of young consumers agreeing that allowing for indulgences every once in a while is good self-care. And treat purchases have clearly been a part of this time for them.

We also found that many of these mood-boosting and boredom-busting purchases have been impulse buys:

Our PULSE survey found nearly two in five young consumers say that they are buying more fun/impulse purchases than usual these days—more evidence that they’re turning to shopping for entertainment. In fact, according to our Retail’s New Reality report, 39% of 13-39-year-olds have online window-shopped without a purchase in mind, and Gen Z is even more likely than Millennials to use online shopping as entertainment without a specific purpose: 47% of 13-18-year-olds have online window shopped with no purchase in mind compared to 36% of Millennials. But both groups are making impulse purchases, with a quarter of both Gen Z and Millennials saying they have impulse bought something they saw in their social media feed during Coronavirus.

For brands, there is a lot that can be done to appeal to this behavior. Featuring little luxuries, fun items, and communicating that now is the time for young consumers to treat themselves can all help to play into their desire to mood-boost with retail. Looking at your ecommerce experience through the lens of entertainment is also key: how are you engaging young shoppers and encouraging them to browse? Gamified interactions (like Stitch Fix’s Tinder-style in-app game Style Shuffle, or product personalization quizzes) are just one of the ways that retailers are layering an element of fun into online shopping.

It’s also significant to point out that our PULSE survey found that 40% say they haven’t changed the way they spend because of COVID—while many retailers are feeling the pinch plenty of young consumers are still willing to spend. It’s just what they’re spending on and how they’re making those purchases that has changed.