Millennials have made smartphones a totem of their generation. Even as smartphone penetration climbs among older consumers, millennials are the ones making the most of the device’s capabilities.
In important respects (like social networking), smartphones now surpass computers as the locus of millennials’ digital lives. But the phone’s degree of importance to them is not uniform across all digital activities, with transaction of purchases among the laggards, according to a new eMarketer report, “Millennials and Their Smartphones: How Many Have Them and What They Do with Them.”
It is increasingly common to see millennials with smartphone in hand as they navigate a store, or using it to conduct research before getting there. Learning what suits them and what does not, they have integrated the phone into some aspects of their shopping while (so far) omitting it from others.
Given millennials’ attachment to their smartphones, one might assume those devices have remade their approach to shopping. That could happen someday, but has not happened yet. In August 2014 polling for Telefónica by Penn Schoen Berland, just 37% of US 18- to 34-year-olds said mobile technology had significantly transformed their purchasing.
Plenty of millennials have used their smartphone to transact a purchase, but this has not become standard practice for a majority. In a September 2014 Annalect survey of US smartphone users ages 19 to 33, 40% said they use their smartphones “to make an actual purchase,” vs. 65% doing so via computer.
When millennials use their smartphones for shopping, they are often pursuing a bargain. Annalect found two-thirds of US millennial digital shoppers used smartphones to compare/check prices, and nearly as many to seek coupons and discounts.
Asked about showrooming by millennials, Erin Bilezikjian-Johnson, Annalect’s group director for primary research and insights, responded, “I think it plays a key role in how they’re purchasing right now.” She cited Annalect research that found 82% of millennials used a mobile device while in-store. Though showrooming has caught on among older consumers as well, it may have special urgency for cash-strapped millennials. Joline McGoldrick, research director at Millward Brown Digital, characterized showrooming as “huge” among millennials, who often are in the position of “wanting that great thing and not necessarily being able to afford that” unless they get the best possible price.