Millennials are working more, but have significantly less net worth as compared to consumers in their age group from more than two decades ago. According to Deloitte Consulting LLP, today’s consumers are also under more financial duress than prior generations. This is due to higher nondiscretionary expenses such as health-care costs and heavier student debt, which rose 160 percent since 2004.
The survey results also revealed a more diverse consumer base that has opened up opportunities for retailers.
“Despite what is often characterized as changing preference and behaviors driven by a fundamentally different, technology-driven consumer, what this study found is that today’s consumer in many ways isn’t all that different,” authors of the report said. “What is often overlooked, but a clear driver of changing consumer behavior is a consumer who is under greater financial pressures compared to the consumer of 30 years ago; this situation is particularly evident with low-income, middle-income and Millennial consumers.”
The Deloitte researchers unlocked some fundamental similarities with Millennials compared to prior generations while also revealing some stark realities in regard to their financial well-being. “While it’s typically thought that Millennials are breaking the mold in terms of spending habits, this research found that members of this generation are spending the same percentage of their income on categories as similar age cohorts did in the past,” the researchers said. “What’s interesting to point out is that since 1996, the net worth of consumers under the age of 35 has fallen by 34 percent.”
Kasey Lobaugh, principal and chief retail innovation officer at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said the firm’s findings “debunked many conventional wisdoms about the new-age consumer.”
“In many ways, the consumer hasn’t fundamentally changed,” Lobaugh said. “Instead, their behaviors have been triggered by a rise in nondiscretionary expenses and the growing bifurcation between high- and low-income groups.” Overall, Lobaugh also found that the consumer respondents represent a customer base that is “now more diverse and heterogeneous, leading to a broader consumer base with varied sets of demands and needs.”
Highlights of the report include changes in spending as well as free time. More than three-fourths of those polled said they had less or “the same amount” of free time as compared to last year. And while the total hours worked in the U.S. has increased 43 percent since 1980, “the increase has been driven by the growth of the workforce,” Deloitte stated in the report.
“Interestingly, despite what consumers may be feeling, discretionary time is actually up overall, with time spent on leisure and sports increasing 5 percent between 2007 and 2017, or an additional 14 minutes daily,” the researchers said. “This somewhat debunks the myth of the ‘time-starved consumer.’ What consumers appear to be reacting to is likely the stress of having more choices of how to spend their increased discretionary time — and having to choose between multiple options.”
The research involved 4,000 consumers and was augmented by government spending data. The goal was to offer insights and highlights of “new pockets of opportunity for retailers” while demonstrating the “importance of understanding the consumer’s changing demographic, economic and geographic specifics.”
The over-arching them showed that there is no “average consumer” authors of the report said adding that there is greater “diversity in areas such as race, education, income and rural-urban residence has led to increased fragmentation and distinct subsets of consumers with varied needs.”
“Reduced barriers to entry have resulted in an abundance of new niche retailers and products that provide access to extensive and more competitive options,” Deloitte noted. “How people choose to spend their money is not all that different from 10, or even 30, years ago. Instead, it’s the economic, demographic and cultural factors around them that are creating the nuances that are turning traditional retail and consumer products sectors on their heads.”