Insights for Companies from a Millennial in the Marketing Industry

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Explaining Millennials' Obsession with Convenience

We all know that millennials love convenience. An Economist Intelligence Unit survey confirmed this when 70% of respondents said millennials care most about convenience when it comes to making purchase decisions. I can’t remember the last time my friends waited by the TV for their favourite show to come on, when they knew they could just as easily watch it online on their own time, without any commercials. How about the last time a millennial went to the local record shop to buy a CD instead of simply downloading it online? Forget waiting for business hours when you can get the same thing at 2 A.M. online. And then there’s food. Take a stroll through a campus cafĂ© to see for yourself how popular those pre-made sandwiches are. I myself was making my wallet suffer through this daily habit up until this year, and it has taken extreme discipline to get myself out of that hole. My friends and I often discuss how we are victims of the on-campus eateries: even though the sandwiches and other food are pretty gross and by no means satisfying, we still manage to shell out seven bucks a sandwich on a daily or even twice daily basis. What could be making us behave this way?

Some may argue that we have less time than other generations; however, I would hypothesize that this is not in fact the case. The amount of time we should sleep hasn’t increased – we still have to get 8 hours per night, though most of us don’t. We still have roughly the same amount of school and study work…perhaps even less than other generations. Plus, I’d be hard-pressed to find a friend who has done every single one of their assigned readings this school year (sorry for any professors reading this).

How about economic factors? Are millennials spending their extra time in part-time jobs to make more cash, thus leading to a need for convenience goods? Doubtful. In my experience, very few of my peers have held jobs during high school, college or university. Although it’s true that many of us have money issues, there are other, more popular ways to deal with this than to take on part-time jobs.
Could it be possible that there is a new physiological need for my generation and the ones after it? We need air, water, food, sleep and sex…but we also need screen time. Buying non-convenience products requires that we spend time away from our screens. While some might argue that screen time is a psychological need, based on watching how my generation interacts with technology, I can strongly confirm that it has turned physiological. Thumbs twitch when they can’t reach a Blackberry in class. Hands punch when the internet is down. What is the first thing millennials do when they get up in the morning, and the last thing they do before they go to bed? You guessed it – check their screens. Millennials can’t go more than a few hours without checking if they have any new texts, emails, Facebook messages, or tweets. Or else they get antsy.

I would like to argue that it is millennials’ psychological need to keep up with one another that is fuelling their need for convenience products. Why spend time cooking dinner when you know your neighbour is hard at work on that essay you haven’t started working on yet? Similarly, are you really going to toil away at making a three-course meal when all your friends are out partying? To solve both these problems, you can turn to convenience products. Millennials want to keep up to speed with their peers, both academically and socially. This encompasses engaging with another social aspect of today’s world: social networking. I would argue that social media is what is single-handedly driving convenience products into the hands of millennials. Every time I hear a classmate saying how busy they are or how little time they have these days, I can’t help but wonder how much time they’ve spent on Facebook recently. But they shouldn’t be faulted for this…social networking is undoubtedly a necessary evil for millennials. If you’re not on Facebook, you don’t exist. This may sound harsh, but not if you’ve witnessed as many people saying it as I have. Social networking is the most pervasive form of communication between millennials, far outweighing email.

So how did we get this way? Well, we’ve had the world at our fingertips since we were born. Thanks to the advent of new technology, we can get answers, shop, and get responses from our friends instantaneously. Taking a page from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers book, we’ve spent our 10,000 hours online and now we’re experts…on instant gratification. We get our news, music, video, entertainment and books online. We text message, use social networking sites, instant message, play video games, and surf the web. We want things when we want them, and can’t stand to wait. The lesson for marketers? Make your products and services available all the time, or someone else will. Make them fast, make them available in locations close to us, and make them online.


  1. You've generated a lot of interesting discussion here, perhaps because it's a topic that is relevant to pretty much everyone in modern society but particularly millennials as you mentioned, or as my previous employer called them in Wikinomics, The Net Generation. You're absolutely right that that we want everything and we want it now. We won't wait. The advance of the Internet and what it represents has fueled a generation of young people who grew up being able to get everything they want, whenever they want. Want to know something? Go to Wikipedia. Want to socialize, Facebook. Entertainment’s to be had at Youtube, etc. etc. The point is we’re always on the move, you don’t stop and wait for a response. If you’re a business and you can’t give me what I want in under 15 minutes then I don’t have time for you – there’s a queue of other people or things I could be connected to right now and I want to be doing things now. Although our commitments to other things are constant with the past, there are now so many more things to fill it with, that as a person or business, you’re competing with everyone else for my attention – all the time.

    I think that you could think of this as humans’ continued evolution. We now extend our senses out using tech. and this is affecting us in many psychological and physiological ways. What I find interesting is how the technology itself is impacting our behaviour, first with the growth of the web, then mobile phones/texting/voice, and now social media being spread across both. Does anyone actually remember what it was like without all the tech? I certainly don’t, but I swear if I had to go without either of my computers for a month I would NOT be happy. Each new layer of technology or it’s application gives us access to new things, but is that necessarily wholly a good thing?

    We're now wired to be connected (our brains have actually been shown to change over time in response to the influence of how we use all this technology), but I have some concerns about the impact of this in terms of our well-being. I was in the library today and as I walked past all the study areas it was easy to see the Facebook pages left open while students would study. I have no doubt that this constant self bombardment of information leads to stress for many people, particularly from a job perspective. When I’m at work I refuse to use social media but when I go home after a long day of paying attention, I want to unwind, not be connected indefinitely. Employers will likely have to consider in the future how they apply a policy of connectedness to the workplace. Employers now expect you to be accessible from anywhere, anytime, because that’s the system of convenience we run on now, it’s the norm. But a no expectation of answering emails after 8pm sounds like a pretty nice employment benefit – oh and it’s free. Depending on how you look at it. Oh and it’s free.

    Anyways I didn’t expect to write so much but as I mentioned - an interesting topic. Nice post, I like the blog.


  2. Could hardly stand to read this entire article. This is completely stereotypical of one group of friends that might happen to be millennials, probably based on your own network at a university (if you went to college) which doesn't mean you know how every other millennial works. This generation is so diverse that there is no way to group them under one stereotype, which you have unsuccessfully done in this "piece of writing."