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Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Gen Why

April 2, 2012

Home textiles industry, let me introduce you to the Millennials, aka Generation Y. I don't believe you've ever been formally introduced.

With the recent news that retailers like Macy's and Kohl's are launching specific efforts to go after this cohort - generally recognized as those from age 20 to those in their early 30s - it appears that the people who sell stuff are finally realizing that this generation consists of people who buy stuff ... or at least could buy stuff.

But it's not going to be that easy. Us Baby Boomers were easy marks. Put anything shiny in front of us and we couldn't whip out our credit cards fast enough. The Gen Xers who followed have basically turned out to be a bust, not overly concerned with the great American art of conspicuous consumption but willing to buy if it seemed like a good enough idea.

But Gen Y is a whole different slice of the demographic pie. These guys are scary ... at least to anyone who doesn't understand the ground rules of selling them. And so, in the interests of those whose job it is to sell stuff, I thought it timely to explain some of the dynamics of the Millennials. And in the spirit of the season (at least for some of us) I'd like to put it in the form of the four questions.

Why is this Generation different from all other generations? People born after the early 1980s have never not had the Internet as a resource once they could start handling a keyboard. This has forever changed the way they gather information, communicate with each other and interact with businesses. It's the single most profound change of the rules since the invention of television a half-century before.

Why is this Generation so hard to sell to? Yes, they are more cynical and less susceptible to marketing, but Boomers were natural-born cynics ("Never trust anyone over 30") and marketing does work in reaching Gen Y consumers, but not the same old marketing. Pictures of smiling, satisfied customers won't cut it with this group. They want the facts, they want some humor and they want a deal. Oh, how they want a deal.

Why is this Generation not shopping the way their parents did? This group was originally called the Echo-Boomers, children of Baby Boomers. They watched how their parents consumed and like every generation before them - especially the Boomers - they did the exact opposite. This is the way it's been since that first shopping mall, the Garden of Eden.

Why is this Generation just not buying enough stuff? See all of the above but add in one extremely important factor: No age group has been hit harder by the Great Recession than Gen Y, which after getting out of college has not found the jobs their predecessors had waiting for them. Factor in massive school loans and higher prices and you have a group that is moving back into their old rooms at home. Not exactly a recipe for consumption.

Maybe a more apt name would be Gen Why Not?