What Your Customers Care About: Me, Myself, and Mine

The Me Generation has come into its own. According to a survey of the general population of the United States, comfort of oneself and one’s family are foremost in Americans’ minds. The demographically and geographically balanced survey, conducted by The Harrison Group in fall 2007, polled more than 1,150 adults ages 18–70.

Among the key findings were:

Optimism is eroding. Americans, typically an optimistic group, aren’t finding much to be encouraged about right now. In the survey, taken prior to the most recent hikes in food and energy prices and also before the presidential primary elections began, 57 percent of respondents said they felt optimistic about their own future. Only 33 percent felt optimistic about America’s future, and 29 percent were optimistic about the world’s future. Wealthier consumers reported higher levels of optimism about themselves—and those levels rose proportionally with income—but they were less optimistic about both America and the world than the general population.

Worriers. Eighty-one percent of general-population respondents agreed strongly or somewhat that “something bad is going to happen,” and 80 percent agreed strongly or somewhat that “the world is deteriorating.” The top 10 areas of concern were all perceived to be out of one’s control. They were, in descending order: the war in Iraq, child exploitation or abuse, health-care coverage, terrorism, missing children, quality of education, Internet predators, drugs and guns in schools, and caring for the elderly. Not on the list of top 10 concerns (in October, when the survey was taken) were: the economy, the environment, global warming, the price of gasoline, and obesity.

Work hard and have a purpose. Seventy-one percent of respondents were happy with their jobs, but 71 percent also felt they work harder than most. Sixty-eight percent think of themselves as a leader among their peers, and 89 percent feel they were put on this planet for a reason. When asked what was something they wished they had more of, 71 percent said “money,” 51 percent “a better body,” 49 percent “time,” 44 percent “patience,” 42 percent “security,” 41 percent “happiness,” and 37 percent “friends.”

A self-centered world. Respondents are most concerned with the well-being of themselves and their inner circle. In a question asking respondents to check off what they’re passionate about (multiple answers allowed), 81 percent checked “family,” 65 percent checked “friends,” and 62 percent checked “partner.” Fifty-nine percent checked “good health,” and 47 percent cited “leisure time.”

Wired. Almost everyone in the general population is online. Eighty-five percent of respondents are on the Internet daily, 13 percent go online almost daily, and only 2 percent get online less often. Nearly 70 percent of respondents ages 18–29 have created a profile on MySpace.com, and 61 percent of that group visit a social networking site every day. Still, Americans overall spend more time doing other things than networking online. Topping the list, at 2.8 hours per week, were news/current events sites. Next in popularity was interactive gaming sites, which clocked in at 2.7 hours spent per week. No. 3 was message boards, chat rooms, and blogs, which take up 2.2 hours per week of time. Shopping, at 1.9 hours per week, came in fourth, and checking out friends’ profiles on networking sites was fifth, with 1.1 hours per week. Attending to one’s own networking site takes up only one hour per week.

Shopping online. Seventy-seven percent of respondents had made an online purchase within the previous six months. Men typically spend more online than women, and older women typically spend more than younger women. Among the total population, the average amount spent online was $636.70 in the past six months. The biggest spenders were men in Generation X (born 1965–77), at $904.90, followed by mature men (born prior to 1946), who spent an average of $849. Mature women spent an average of $800 online in the past six months, followed by Generation X women, who spent an average of $445.70. Baby boomer women (born 1946–64) spent an average of $331.30, and Millennial women (born 1978 and later) spent an average of $337. Millennial men spent $793.50.

Shopping attitudes. Seventy-one percent of all respondents used the Internet to research their purchases first. Sixty-five percent felt the Internet “liberated” their shopping. Fifty-four percent felt “looked down on” by salespeople in upscale stores, and 61 percent of respondents said they were turned off by the focus on youthful fashion in stores. Millennials are most engaged in the social aspect of shopping; for them, it’s both a means to an end (acquisition) and a form of entertainment. Social engagement with shopping declines with age, as does concern with what others think about one’s wardrobe choices. Millennials are most likely among all shoppers to seek out brands that make them feel sexy and desirable, unique and different, and communicate acceptance and success to others.

Quality matters. Among all respondents, 92 percent somewhat or strongly agreed that they would seek out brands with a reputation for the best quality and high craftsmanship. Eighty-four percent strongly agree that they would seek out brands made in the United States. Eighty percent value a history and heritage, and 80 percent also value a reputation for technology. (Multiple answers were allowed.) Two jewelry brands, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier, were among the top 12 luxury brands cited as favorites. Tiffany ranked fifth; Cartier was 10th.

Top stores. The top five stores that respondents indicated they “like or love to shop” were, in descending order: Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and J.C. Penney. Affluent shoppers (earning $75,000 or more annually) strongly favor Target over Wal-Mart. The top five favorite luxury retailers were, in descending order, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany.

Consumers control the message! In deciding where to shop, respondents were asked to select all those factors that influenced their choice. For jewelry, “spouse or partner recommendation” was the No. 1 influence, with 60 percent of respondents selecting it. Fifty-seven percent said “selection in stores/showrooms” was an influence, 50 percent said “independent consumer reports,” 48 percent checked “family is using,” 47 percent said “retailer’s online site,” 36 percent checked off “closest friends are using,” 32 percent checked “catalogs,” 29 percent cited “newspaper and magazine articles,” and 27 percent mentioned “television advertising.”

Connected, but not attached. Eighty-eight percent of respondents have a cellular telephone. Eighty-three percent have high-speed Internet and cable TV, 74 percent a digital camera, and 68 percent TiVo or a DVR. But although we’re accessible, we also choose how we want to receive messages. Forty-six percent who own a TiVo or DVR skip all commercials, 9 percent skip about half, and 8 percent skip about one-quarter. That means 63 per-cent of the audience a marketer is paying to reach may choose not to receive the message.

Kids rule. In households with children, the children’s preferences are deemed important when deciding what the family does for fun, where to go on vacation, what clothes to wear, what to watch on television, and what groceries to buy.

Venus and Mars still matter. Women and men show significant differences in what excites them. Women indexed higher than men in reporting themselves as “passionate” about these self indulgences: shopping (187), jewelry and watches (177), shoes (166), fashion (145), friends (126), maintaining good looks (129), good health (123), and family (119). Men also are indulgent, but they choose different categories than women. Men indexed much higher than women on video games (300), sports (281), beer (262), automobiles (215), technology (205), sex (177), and politics (153).