Millennial. Perhaps you’ve heard the word so many times you never want to hear it again or, worse yet, it’s lost its meaning. For the record: A millennial (n.) is a person born between 1981 and 1997, according to Pew Research Center. And lest you need reminding, members of this generation account for the largest consumer force in history.
Millennials spent $200 billion dollars last year and are expected to spend $10 trillion by 2020, according to Pew. JCK spoke to retailers, analysts, and millennials themselves to understand how jewelry retailers can better reach this controversial yet powerful demographic.
While it’s true that marriage rates among millennials are down and marrying ages are up—two years ago, just 26 percent of millennials were married; at the same age, 36 percent of Gen X and 48 percent of boomers had tied the knot, according to Pew—the good news is that they are still partnering up, which means they’re in the market for bridal jewelry.
“Obviously millennials are the majority of our bridal customers now,” says Ryan Blumenthal, owner of Corinne Jewelers in Toms River, N.J. “They are very well informed, and, yes, by the time they show up in your store they will have spent the whole week researching at night online on multiple different websites and blogs, but they are still showing up in your store because they need you to help them. They have a general idea but would feel much better with an expert to help them get the ring of their dreams.”
The Google generation respects expertise and appreciates information. Jamie Gutfreund, global chief marketing officer for Wunderman, a New York City–based digital marketing agency, says that retailers can communicate and endear themselves to millennials using educational content posted online, in-store, and via direct marketing.
“As they start to consider making big purchases, they feel more comfortable if they understand the best process for making these decisions: how to determine the quality of the items, the long-term value, the investment in something that can become an heirloom,” Gutfreund says. “How do they take care of the piece? What are the insurance implications? These are things that they are considering.”
Singer/songwriter/Lemonade maker Beyoncé
Washington, D.C.–based Lauren Cooper, 31, is a prototypical millennial bridal shopper. She spent months researching engagement rings before she and her fiancé were ready to buy. Her efforts included following designers on Instagram, reading the forums on Pricescope, and trying on rings at a retail store she chose after comparing Yelp reviews.
“It was really good to actually see them in person and how they looked on my hand,” she says of her experience in the brick-and-mortar store. “The woman in the shop was really friendly, and she pulled out so much for me to look at. It was kind of intimidating because you’re looking at diamonds! And the store was in Georgetown, a really high-rent area. But it was very relaxed.”
Alas, Cooper didn’t end up buying from the retailer. She ordered her diamond (a 0.9 ct. round) and her setting (a twisted platinum band) online from James Allen. “If I hadn’t already known about James Allen, I probably would have bought something from the jeweler we went to,” she says. “But I’m a price maven and couldn’t pay more once I knew it was possible to pay less.”
Cooper and her cohort are not alone in this sentiment: Accenture reports that 41 percent of shoppers of all ages admitted to showrooming before buying.
Ben Smithee, CEO of The Smithee Group, a digital strategy and consumer sciences consultancy in New York City, says stories like these shouldn’t upset jewelers, but rather inspire them to innovate in order to draw customers into their stores.
“Retailers need to redesign experientially what the retail experience is,” he says. “How many people can I get in the store, and how I can I get them to stay as long as possible, get them around jewelry, and get them to see jewelry as something attainable, desirable, tactile, fun?”
Country crooner–turned–pop star Taylor Swift
Aging Into Luxury
The other good news about millennials is that they are aging into their highest-earning years (the peak will be in 2020), which means they increasingly have money to spend on luxury items, including jewelry.
Marina Pilibosian, CEO of Birmingham Jewelry in Sterling Heights, Mich., is seeing a lot of millennial interest in fashion-forward pieces in her store. “Trendy, collectible jewelry does really well with them: charm bracelets, stackable rings,” she says. “Millennials don’t seem to put the same value on gold like the past generations did, but we do have many young customers who shop for dainty necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.”
Millennials are also notorious for wanting to personalize the things they buy—including their jewelry. Lauren Rodrigue, 27, received an heirloom ring when she got engaged but was excited to instill her own style into her wedding band choices. Note the plural: The advertising copywriter decided to go with two bands to create a faux halo around her diamond, one with white diamonds and one with black diamonds—and to spend her own money on the splurge.
“We split the costs of my rings and his band,” Rodrigue says. “It makes me proud that we are in a place in our lives where we can afford to buy these items.”
Facebook chairman-CEO-cofounder Mark Zuckerberg
It should come as no surprise that the secret to capturing the millennial sale is being where they are (hint: social media).
“For millennials, everything is social,” Smithee says. “The retailers I’m bullish on for tomorrow are the ones investing now in social and digital. That’s where the sale starts, and it’s just a matter of time until social is where the sale is.”
Rodrigue’s trendy wedding band duo came from designer Anna Sheffield, whom she discovered on Instagram. “I’ve been lusting after this designer and following her Instagram for two years,” she says.
Catering to millennials also means understanding their expectations.
“Millennials, they don’t have the assumed patience and tolerance that others had,” says Jonathan Mervis of Mervis Diamond Importers in Washington, D.C. “Their starting point is that things should be delivered tomorrow. It’s not that they are obnoxious—it’s what they’re used to. The engagement ring might be the first thing they buy they can’t get overnight.”
Mervis thinks retailers can reap huge benefits from applying their approach to millennials to the rest of their clientele.
“They are setting the new standard,” he says. “Their moms are starting to act like millennials! When your kids are demanding and want personalization, that becomes contagious and everyone says, I need that, too. They have elevated the bar for customer service. They can be more difficult, but they can also be your best friend, because they have the power, through social media, to recommend you to thousands of people. And they will, if you give them a great experience.”
(Top: MoMo Productions/Getty Images; inset: Tina Fineberg/The New York Times/Redux; bride and groom: Amber Robertson/Twenty20; Beyoncé: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage; Swift: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic; Zuckerberg: David Ramos/Getty Images)