The Recession's Generation of Bargain Shoppers

unemployment curve

The big story in fashion media this year has been the return of consumer spendingluxury sales are way up, and even mainstream retailers are seeing numbers improve. But one glaring fact stands in the way of all the recovery talk: unemployment is still sky high. Despite a small decrease in January, the number of jobless Americans remains at a critical level — and the demographic hit the hardest is the Millennials, or people age 18-29 who are just beginning their careers.

These recent grads are suffering in the job market, and so they’re pinching pennies on everything — clothing, food, travel, entertainment. Young shoppers are also showing an insatiable desire for bartering and deals — a hunger that’s easily fed by e-commerce sites like eBay, coupon sites like Groupon, and flash sales like Gilt. And Women’s Wear Daily notes that the barter trend is even extending to stores themselves:

Stores are going to have to meet the cash-strapped Millennials on their home turf. For example, Koehn said savvy retailers would figure out how to run eBay-style promotions, which allow real-time give and take over price.

Already, shoppers are bringing that attitude to stores. On a recent trip to Saks Fifth Avenue, Koehn said someone asked a saleswoman if the store could offer a better price on an item. It’s not hard to imagine the offense a saleswoman in the Eighties would have mustered; her current-day counterpart said she’d check.

As WWD points out, this change in consumer attitude is likely to stick around even once these young people get jobs and rising salaries. All of which means that retailers need to find new ways to reach and understand this age group if the brands want to stay relevant — which isn’t an easy task, even in good economic times. The negotiation craze could even prove contagious: We certainly plan to try out this bartering tactic the next time we’re at Saks.

Hat tip: Refinery29

Graphic: WWD

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