Oct 25

Millennials – Who They Are and How They Shop

The term Millennials is virtually omnipresent. While there is no fixed term as to the delineation of what cohorts form the generation of Millennials, there are a lot of opinions but also prejudices against this group of young people. 

In this article, we want to try and get a better grasp of this ominous generation. First, we’re going to look into some general information, such as: Who are they? What are their living conditions like?

More importantly, however, we want to find out more about their shopping habits. Are they really shopping more online than they do offline? Will offline supermarkets and stores eventually become obsolete once the Millennials take over?

Not too long from now, Millennials are going to be the customers controlling retail. In part, they may already do so today. It is, therefore, common sense to look deeper into their wants and needs. After all, this is the only way to find out where companies have to go in order to satisfy the demands of this new type of customers.

Who Are The Millennials?

Generally speaking, Millennials are the generation following the Generation X. For that reason, they are sometimes also called the Generation Y. As mentioned above, no precise data have been set to separate this generation from the previous or the next one. However, it is roughly said that people born between the early 80s and the late 90s can be called Millennials.

Naturally, people don’t share the exact same characteristics just because they are about the same age – especially not when they are from different geographical regions. Differences in social and economic conditions lead to rather high variations. Nevertheless, there are some general traits that are common to at least most of the Millennials:

  • High familiarity with communications and the media
  • Increased use of digital technologies (first Digital Natives)
  • More open-minded regarding controversial topics (e.g. same-sex marriage)
  • Less resistance to change (as compared to Generation X)

Even though psychologist Jean Twenge found that Millennials share a deep desire to make the world a better place, she still called this generation the Generation Me in 2006. She discovered that Millennials have a rather strong sense of entitlement and narcissism; also, she stated that they consider wealth to be more important than older adults would.

This may, at least in part, be due to the fact that Millennials are the first generaMillennials are used to the internet and smartphonestion to grow up with computers in their homes. Social networks have developed into their most popular form of media usage. For many Millennials those are more than just platforms; social media helps them meet and get to know new people but also keep in touch with friends from all over the world. Through social networks, Millennials create their very own sense of belonging and this naturally includes presenting oneself in the best way possible.

Why Millennials Don’t Want To Be Millennials

From the previous paragraph it becomes clear that the term Millennial often has a rather negative connotation: They only care about themselves, are wasteful, and greedy. Furthermore, they can’t live without the internet or their smartphones and often lack independence.

These are reproaches the generation of Millennials frequently has to face from older generations. It only makes sense that no one really wants to identify with those traits or be connected to them. Still Millennials make up about 22% of the population in Germany; and with about 25% it even is a little more in the UK.

of the German population

of the population in UK


We wanted to go beyond those prejudices. Not only to clear them up but also to really get to know the unique features of this generation. As mentioned before, knowing about their characteristics as well as their preferences (e.g. with regards to leisure time or shopping) is crucial for companies to succeed in the future. Consequently, relying on perceptions and prejudice is not that good of an idea.

Therefore, we conducted a survey in Germany and the United Kingdom in which we asked the Millennials, themselves, about their everyday lives, their habits, and their shopping behavior.

Background Information

The study was conducted between August and September 2017. In total, 1143 Millennials took part; 868 of which were from Germany and 275 from the UK. For our purposes, we defined Millennials as those between 21 and 35 of age. The study was conducted via the Streetspotr app. In order for Millennials to participate, they had to have an account and meet the age criterion.

Education, Profession, and Social Environment

Millennials are generally highly educated. 67% of the German Millennials graduated with either an intermediate (Mittlere Reife, after ten years of school) or an advanced (Abitur, after 12 years of school) school leaving certificate. In the UK, an impressive 62% of the participating Millennials went to College or University. In both countries only 1% of the respondents indicated that they had no degree.Millennials are generally highly educated

For the most part, our Millennials are either full-time employees or still students. Only very few (5% in Germany; 3% in the UK) are unemployed.

Millennials tend to have children later than earlier generations. At ages 21-25 merely 7% in Germany and 11% in the UK indicated that they already had children. This precentage increases, however, the older the Millennials get. At ages 31-35 it has risen to 38% for Germany and even to 44% in the UK.

Due to the fact that Millennials tend to have children at a later age, most of them live either alone or with one other person. Millennials living with two or more people often live in shared flats, not necessarily with family.

Leisure Time and Social Media

According to our study, Millennials are not that much focused on just one activity but like to engage in various ones. This is even more the case for Millennials in the UK than it is for thfriends and family are very important to Millennialsose in Germany. While they largely live up to their reputation when it comes to the use of the internet (59% in Germany and 82% in the UK indicated that it was part of how they spend their free time), in both countries spending times with friends and family is still more important than being online. But also sports, music, and travelling is something most Millennials enjoy. 

The importance of friends and family increases even further with age, while the interest in Shopping and Lifestyle decreases over time.

When it comes to social media, Facebook still is the clear winner with 88% of German and 94% of British respondents using this social network. However, Instagram and YouTube are on the advance.

The study also found that while Pinterest is a lot more popular with female Millennials, more male ones are actively using YouTube and Google+.

Shows which Social Networks are most popular with Millennials

Speaking of activity: Millennials are very active on social media platforms. When asked about how often they use them, 65% in Germany and 83% in the UK reported several times a day. Only about 5% of German Millennials and 0.5% of British Millennials indicated that they didn’t use social networks at all, stressing the importance of these for this generation. 

Shows how often Millennials use Social Networks

Shopping Behavior

First, we asked our Millennials how they become aware of new products and special offers. In general, it seems like British Millennials more actively look for new products and offers than German ones. 11% (UK) as compared to 23% (DE) stated that they discovered them by chance without actually looking for them.

In the UK, websites (27%), ads on television, newsletters and friends and family (all 15%) also are an important source of this type of information. This is quite similar to Germany with the exception of newsletters. Only 1% of German Millennials have signed up for newsletters to learn about product launches or special offers.

Despite the fact that Millennials are considered Digital Natives, retail apps don’t play that big of a role in their shopping behavior. While they are somewhat more popular in the UK than they are in Germany, it can’t be said that they are very popular either. The most used retail app in the UK has shown to be Voucher Cloud (19%); in Germany it is KaufDA (10%).

Online Shopping

When it comes to online shopping the study revealed that British Millennials shop a lot more online than their German counterparts. In Germany, 44% of respondents indicated that they ordered online at least four times a month. Even though that is not that small of a number, in the UK that share goes up to 72%.

However, while in Germany the distribution doesn’t change much between the three defined age groups, in the UK older Millennials (age 31-35) shop a lot less online than their younger compatriots. In this age group, only 35% stated that they ordered on the internet at least four times a month compared to 91% for younger Millennials. Millennials like to shop online

Asking the Millennials what kind of products they regularly buy online, German Millennials are mostly focused on clothes (30%) and electronics (28%). Also in this regard, the UK Millennials are one step ahead; their shopping carts are more diversified. Even though clothes are still the number one product to regularly buy online (44%), Millennials in the UK are also very likely to buy groceries (38%), cosmetics (27%), and drugstore items (26%) on the internet.

Offline Shopping

A logical consequence of German Millennials not being very likely to shop online for groceries and other products is that they spend more time shopping offline, i.e. in normal supermarkets and stores. The questions in our survey focused on grocery shopping.

The majority of German respondents goes to the supermarket two or three times a week; in the UK, by contrast, they prefer to go either once or twice a week. When it comes to where they prefer to shop, Tesco (69%) is the clear winner in the UK followed by Sainsbury’s and Asda (both 43%). In Germany, the result is not so definite. Lidl (62%) was chosen as the most popular one, closely followed by Aldi (58%), Rewe (54%), and Edeka (49%) but also other chains such as Kaufland (39%), Netto (38%), or Penny (30%) are still quite popular with Millennials in Germany.

Of course, going to a grocery store is usually also connected with some sort of distance that has to be travelled to get theOther Millennials take the car to go to the storere. Asking the Millennials how they get to the supermarket, the answers by Germans and Brits were pretty similar: 59% and 64% respectively take the car. In both countries 23% walk to the store and also the share of those using public transportation is similar (7% in DE as compared to 9% in UK).

While the percentage of respondents taking the bike to get to the supermarket is comparably high in Germany (11% vs. 2% in UK) none of the German Millennials stated that they only ordered their groceries online. Even though 2% in the UK is not a lot either, it stilSome Millennials go to the store by bikel confirms the earlier impression that the British Millennials are one step ahead of their German counterparts with regard to online shopping.

Even though the majority of our respondents takes the car to go grocery shopping, only very few are willing to travel farther than 5 km to the next supermarket. Of course, especially for those living in the city a lack of supermarkets which are closer than 5 km should not be a very big problem. Therefore, the 7% (DE) and 6% (UK) that are willing to travel more than 10 km to the next supermarket may well be Millennials who live in the countryside.

Now What Does All That Mean?

So far, we’ve given you a lot of information and percentages of who Millennials are, what they like to do, and what their shopping behavior is like. Now you might ask why you should know all this stuff and how it can contribute to a company’s future success.

One of the most important implications of this study is that social media advertisement should be a substantial part of any company’s marketing strategy. Since nearly all Millennials spend a significant amount of time on those platforms, the audience for ads is huge. Currently, Facebook isMillennials are very active on social media still the most used social network. However, the others are steadily gaining importance and popularity. Companies should, therefore, slowly but surely get familiar and explore their options with apps and websites such as Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Furthermore, the study has shown that Millennials tend to live in small households of just one or two people. Companies which produce products which spoil rather easily or fast after opening them, should, thus, consider providing smaller package sizes than the usual ones. Not only would this serve the needs of the Millennials better, it could also help to reduce the problem of food waste in developed countries.

The results of the survey indicate, moreover, that retail apps are nice to have but they haven’t reached great popularity amongst young adults so far. As smartphones have become part of (not only) the Millennials’ everday lives, promoting the existence of those apps only makes sense for retailers. Advertisement on social media and, for instance, coupons only available in the app could help making the use of these more common for Millennials but also older adults who own a smartphone.

We have also found that German Millennials are still more reluctant to shop online than their counterparts in the UK. Additionally, when they order online they mostly stick to certain products. That means that for a rather large range of products German Millennials prefer to actually go to the store and buy the products there. But also in the UK we are far away from a generation that only orders from the internet and never goes out to the shops anymore.

As a consequence, in-store marketing campaigns will remain important also in the future. A lot of customers make their purchasing decisions right at the Point of Sale. Therefore, it is crucial for companies to present their products in the best possible way. Proper retail execution will still be a decisive factor when it comes to a company’s success in the years to come.

Even though in times of increasing use of the interent it may be tempting for companies to focus on this area, on-site marketing and on-shelf presentation should not be forgotten. Shopping in actual stores isn’t that likely to become obsolete; at least not as soon as some people might expect it to. 



To make a long story short, Millennials are becoming increasingly important for companies. Very soon the majority of clients will be Millennials. It is, therefore, crucial for companies to get to know this new group of customers. 

Our study has shown that Millennials are not as self-centered and online-focused as their reputation. For instance, even more than on the internet, they like to spend their free time with friends and family. But they also enjoy a whole bunch of other activities.

It has, however, also been found that they do in fact spend a lot of time on social media. For that reason, companies should ensure that they make use of these platforms for their advertisement efforts. In this regard, the survey also revealed that platforms apart from Facebook such as Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube are on the advance. Being active on Facebook only may soon not be enough anymore.

Additionally, we have found that also with Millennials, the first Digital Natives, online shopping has not completely taken over yet. A lot of them still prefer to actually go into the stores. This is especially true for grocery shopping. This implies that companies should not switch completely to focusing only on their online appearance. In-store presentation of their products and marketing campaigns are still crucial for them to succeed.

Some Final Notes

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, there is no definitely determined age range for who is part of the Millennials and who is not. In our survey we set a rather large range. For potential future studies, it may make sense to specifially separately look at the individual age groups (born 1982-1986; born 1987-1991; born 1992-1996). This way interesting insights into how perspectives and habits change with age could be detected.

Moreover, due to the restricted time frame of the survey, the number of respondents was limited. Conducting a comprehensive representative study with a higher number of millennials may lead to additional interesting results.

Lastly, it has to be stressed again that, of course, not all Millennials behave in exactly the same way. While some may spend most of their day online, posting pictures and videos about their day, there may be others who hardly ever post anything about their lives on social media.

There is a lot of diversity amongst Millennials, just as there is or was among any other generation. Still, knowing their general traits is important for companies to know what they should mostly focus on.


Nielsen Millenial Report (2014), Millennials – Breaking The Myths