Millennials and “Experiences”

I’ve seen probably a dozen different articles saying how millennials no longer like to buy products, and instead prefer to spend their money on experiences.  I audibly sigh when I read those.  They miss the mark so hard I wonder if the author is trying to be wrong.

Let’s assume that the claim is true, that millennials actually don’t buy as much stuff.  Is that because they are less materialistic, and more authentic?  Nope.  They don’t buy as much because there isn’t as much to buy.  In the 90s, you needed about 40 different products to match the single smartphone people buy today.  And it wasn’t enough to buy those products.  You had to buy film, and tapes, and get your film developed.  You needed CDs, and batteries to run the CD player.  You needed a GPS for your car, and a separate one for hiking.  You needed a home phone, and an answering machine.  I could go on.  The point is that you don’t need this stuff any more, so not a lot of places still try to sell it.  And things that we do still need, like clothes, have changed too.  All clothing, but especially women’s clothing, seems to be in a race to the bottom for price.  As a result, things like quality and usefulness fall to the side.  Ever try to find women’s pants with reasonable pockets?  And shirts seem to fall apart after washing them once or twice.  So people change their habits there, too.  Why buy new when consignment shops have just as good quality, if not better, for less?

What about the other side, that millennials prefer experiences?  Well, let’s focus on the wealthy ones first.  Given that most people with an ok job can afford a high-end smartphone, what will you do with the rest of your disposable income?  How will you differentiate yourselves from your poorer brethren?  You buy experiences.  Since the demand for experiences has grown, the market has responded.  I don’t know how many new breweries have popped up, catering almost exclusively to millennials.  There are escape rooms for people to play in.  I even visited an axe throwing club.  As people have needed fewer products, and many of those products diminish in quality, the money moves to experiences instead.  Which opens the door for poor millennials, who now have more options for experiences than previous generations.

My point is that millennials aren’t different.  The market is.  Had the iPhone never been invented people would still probably be buying voice recorders and answering machines.  The real question is what other effects the current and future markets will bring.  But, as best I can tell, people don’t really change.

I’ll end this with one anecdote.  Growing up, playing video games, one of my uncles remarked that we should be out with my friends.  That he never did this kind of a thing when he was my age.  I told him that if he had an xBox growing up, he would have played the shit out of it.


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