Retailers are tapping into a new pool of American consumers – millennials. While this group of young folks has money to spend, it appears that they need a little more help than your average customer when it comes to things like home maintenance, gardening, and other daily tasks.
This isn’t just a snarky jab at this younger generation; it’s something that businesses have noticed and are accommodating. Seriously? Seriously.
Get this – big-name retailers like Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, the Sherwin-Williams Co., and Scotts are now offering classes and online teaching materials to educate millennials on basic life skills. How basic? Think how to make sure a plant gets light, how to use a tape measure, how to mop a floor, and how to hammer a nail. It would be funny if it weren’t true.
Listen, every generation has nostalgia for the way things used to be. It’s natural. You’ve heard the stories. They usually start out with “When I was a boy,” or “My mother would/would not have ever.” We older generations do tend to opine on the best ways to parent and be critical of current parenting trends. Bring up the concept of helicopter parenting, and anyone over the age of 40 will likely cringe. But have you heard of lawnmower parenting?
Let me explain. Lawnmower parenting is what millennials got. Imagine a lawn that needs to be mowed. Now imagine an early teenager hanging out in their room playing video games. What’s a parent to do? Lawnmower parents leave little Bobbie or Suzie to veg out online and cut the grass for them. It’s that simple.
This is how millennials grew up, in a different world. They weren’t outside helping parents with their gardens. They weren’t helping fix things around the house. And lord knows they weren’t in the garage learning how to change the family car’s oil.
They had highly scheduled childhoods, with soccer practice and piano and lacrosse and dance. They led tech-dependent lifestyles as pre-teens and teenagers that translated into delayed adulthood. They are very, very different from previous generations. And retailers are on to this fact.
Couple this with the fact that millennials are entering into their prime spending years, buying homes and making improvements, and businesses have an incentive to cater to the needs (and neediness) of this generation. According to statistical data, the biggest single age cohort in America today is 26-year-olds. Ages 24, 25 and 27 follow closely behind. On whole, millennials, defined as people born between 1980 and 2000, currently number almost 93 million.
So, for businesses, there is huge profit potential if they can reach these young adults. Hence, the new willingness to develop new products, overhaul marketing campaigns and launch remedial educational programs.
Take Procter & Gamble, for instance, maker of the Swiffer. Because the company has found that millennials are less likely to do deep cleaning, and more likely to do small cleanups, they’ve changed their marketing language. To promote the usefulness of the Swiffer for so-called “maintenance cleaning,” the company has launched adds that promote Swiffer’s ability to clean “in the moment.”
It’s like they mean mindfulness mopping, or something. What they really mean is “this is for cleaning without the hassle or know how needed for a traditional mop, broom and bucket.”
J.C. Penney stores have identified Millennials as “Do-It-For-Me,” as opposed to “Do-It-Yourself” customers, and are acting accordingly. The stores are moving into offering services. West Elm is right behind, with this home furnishing supplier offering service packages that include (wait for it) painting and hanging wall art and mirrors.
Even though the new shifts retailers are making to accommodate millennials may be shocking, the fact that they are bending to meet the needs of this new market shouldn’t be. Decades ago, the baby boomers changed consumer industries too, from diapers to suits to luxury cars and purses. The hook was to promote the boomers’ independent, free spirits.
Now, the hook is to make life easier by either teaching or taking care of basic duties. Millennials differ from their predecessors in that they achieve independence later in adulthood than those that came before them. According to the Census Bureau, in 2016, only 24% of 25- to 34-year-olds had experienced all four major life milestones: having lived away from parents, being in the labor force, having been married and having lived with a child. For the same age group in 1975, 45% had reached all of those milestones.
I don’t know that it’s fair to say that there has been a failure to launch, but the data do show a rather serious delay in launch. Still, it makes sense that companies would cater to this new wave of buyers. They are doing what any business would do; they are following the money. And if that means making online tutorials about the different types of screw heads, for them, the answer is so be it.