Times are tough. In 1960, the average age of a first-time house buyer was 23. Today, it’s 30, reports the Independent – clearly, young people have considerably less spending power these days. Indeed, our inter-generational wealth gap is so great that think tank the Resolution Foundation proposes tax reforms to create a ‘citizen’s inheritance’ – £10,000, payable on everyone’s 25th birthday – to help redress the balance.
Amid this hand-wringing, it’s easy to overlook a crucial point – today’s young people may have less money, but this won’t always be the case. And if those born in the late Eighties are getting on the property ladder, they already need to be taken seriously.
Last month, I spoke to Philippe Chainieux, CEO of Made.com, about the importance of the Millennial customer – a generation that grew up with the internet, eco guilt, and more labels than any other demographic in history.
“Millennials are not the core target group for furniture, but they will be in the next five years,” he said. “Just look at how much the fashion industry has changed since 2013, thanks to ecommerce – the landscape is unrecognisable.”
In some corners of the industry, the shift has already happened. A survey carried out by the National Bed Federation reveals that 51% of mattresses are now purchased online, compared to 47% in-store. Despite Cambridge Analytica’s antics, trust in the internet has never been higher.
Granted, these developments aren’t entirely representative – not everyone under 38 is after designer chic or a bed in a box (and I should know, I’m a Millennial myself – just!). But there’s clearly some disconnect between the industry’s preferred methods of selling and this new audience’s preferred methods of buying.
If Millennial spend is coming of age, how can you better understand your now and future customer? It is said that the younger generations value transparency, and prioritise experience over product – and if that’s the case, then the bed sector has tapped into their demands better than most.
Take the Silentnight Group, which unveiled two new mattress brands at its Brooklands show last month. Sealy UK’s Activsleep targets those in the 30-35 bracket in pursuit of wellbeing – think health-conscious aspirants who attend yoga classes, use personal trainers, or follow the likes of Joe Wicks (The Body Coach) on social media.
On the other hand, Silentnight’s new Eco Comfort Breathe range marries personal comfort with minimal environmental impact, employing eco-fibres made from recycled plastic bottles, earning it the support of the Marine Conservation Society and its anti-plastics crusade.
Both ranges hit the zeitgeist, giving retailers engaging stories to tell their customers, online and in-store. And while product trends are defined by consumer demand, retailers and suppliers too have a substantial role in defining what sells, and how.
Like the opener at an AA meeting, the first step is to acknowledge we have a problem. The Millennials are here to stay, and, regardless of the historical comparatives, they have money, so we’d better get used to giving them what they want.
And don’t even get me started on Generation Z …
Paul Farley is the editor-in-chief of Furniture News magazine, the leading title for the UK domestic furniture and furnishings sector.