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  • These are just a sampling of the many fascinating facts in Gen BuY.
  • To interview the authors please contact Amy Packard by email or at 415-782-3177.

Questions & Answers

with Kit Yarrow, Ph.D. and Jayne O'Donnell

Why did the two of you team up to write Gen BuY?

Kit’s marketing background and research skills were a great compliment to Jayne’s knowledge of the retail industry. As the retail reporter for USA Today, Jayne’s among the first to spot trends and shifts in what retailers are doing and what people are buying. Kit, who is a consumer psychologist, unearths the whys behind those buys and helps marketers (and consumers) understand the emotional needs and values that drive purchases.

We found that the most successful businesses today deeply understand their consumers. Together we were able to explain the deep psychological motivations of this generation and provide marketing and retail strategies required to meet those needs.

Why Generation Y?

Gen Y will have more spending power than any other generation by 2017. They’ve reduced their spending less than other generations in this recession and they’re just now moving into the house-car-baby big-spending era of their lives. As if that weren’t enough, they have unprecedented influence over what their families and friends buy.

In other words, they’re profoundly important to businesses. They’re also our future, it’s important that we understand them.

Why is Gen Y so different from Gen X and Baby Boomers?

Gen Yers, who were born between 1978 and 2000, are the first generation to grow up using technology. As such, they literally think differently than other generations. And technology is like a third hand and a second brain – it’s integrated into everything they do. They’re also the product of a tremendously child-centric era. Because they have parents – and a society -- who put them on a pedestal, they expect to be catered to by marketers.

How do Gen Yers shop differently from older consumers?

Gen Y shops with more passion – 65% of the Gen Yers we surveyed said they “loved” to shop, compared with 43% of those over 30. They are also more likely to shop in groups (physically or virtually), rely on the opinions of friends (real or virtual), favor gift cards over that more personal present and accept text promotions. Because they’re more enthusiastic shoppers they’re also more interested in customizing and promoting products, and they write half of all online product reviews. Of course, technology and mobility are central to everything.

How do the most successful marketers attract Gen Y?

They involve them in the process and engage them. Rather than to speak to them, they speak with them. It starts by understanding their needs and desires. The successful marketer uses technology to get close, they’re authentic and transparent. The specifics vary but the core is always empathy and understanding. For example, Gen Yers want less talk and more action (and visuals) when it comes to marketing communications. After all, they've grown up reading less and "viewing" more.

You say that the best way to market to Gen Y is to understand their lives – what are some examples?

Three that come to mind are what we call the Facebook Factor, choice anxiety and kids maturing later.

What we learned about the effects of Facebook could be another entire book. For example, it’s bonded and bolstered a generation that’s already very team oriented; on the other hand we’ve seen that once people are out of socially vibrant places like college they struggle more with intimate friendships. There’s also more emphasis on appearances. Having these vast legions of social media "friends," however, gives Gen Y a forum to both influence and be influenced by far more people than they otherwise could.

In our in-depth interviews with 20-somethings we found high levels of anxiety around career choices and dating. There’s a double-edged sword to the self-esteem movement and today’s very engaged parents. Because this generation has been told they can do anything and not to settle, and because they have so many options - they feel much more pressure than previous generations did about the major life decisions they’re making.

Though many fear KGOY (kids are getting older younger), we found the opposite to be true, KGOL (kids are getting older later). Their close relationship with their parents, ties to the past through the use of Facebook, and dating in groups are a few of the reasons why.

Your book title says Gen Y is "revolutionizing retail." What do you mean by that?

We can thank Gen Y for things like more creative and technically advanced websites, the wide availability of online customer reviews and a faster stream of truly new products. Because Gen Yers have shopping ADD and crave new experiences, stores that win with Gen Y don't just update their merchandise constantly; they change their interiors, bring in entertainment, run contests and co-promote with other brands and retailers. So they make shopping an all-round livelier experience.

Is this a good thing for other generations? Can we save money shopping like Gen Y?

Though Gen Y is speeding things along, almost everyone’s starting to do things like use Twitter and Facebook fan pages to get sale alerts and access to special promotions, rely on customer reviews for the real scoop on products, customize products online, use search engines for product comparisons and online coupons, and tap into endless smart phone applications for electronic coupons, comparison shopping and to get advice from friends and other shoppers.

But isn’t all this focus on shopping and material things rather, well, alarming?

Gen Y’s confidence in their ability to earn – in spite of the recession, and their closer relationship with their parents (which is a mental safety net for the Gen Yers we interviewed) has alleviated some of the fear that’s put the brakes on spending for older generations. And it does put them at greater risk of financial problems as they age. On the other hand, there couldn’t be a better time to be young – with low interest rates and incentives for first time homeowners, and a low market in which to start saving, there are opportunities. Many have watched their parents lose jobs and/or struggle to pay bills so have seen firsthand the consequences of over-consumption. Our goal here isn’t to encourage or judge youthful spending, but to explain and analyze it for both the sellers and the buyers.

Generation Y covers a lot of age territory, are there differences between the characteristics of younger and older Gen Yers?

Yes. Gen Yers over 21 feel that today’s teens are very different than they were when they were at that age. Many believe the teens are more superficial and less conscientious. That’s in large part because although they all grew up with technology, older Gen Yers didn’t have cell phones or high-speed Internet connections in their rooms.