Professional Jeweler Archive: Customers of Tomorrow: Gen Y

October 2004

Image/Marketing & Demographics

Customers of Tomorrow: Gen Y

A dispatch from the other side of the new generation gap tells you how to woo them

When I was 16, I had my first experience with luxury. A small blue box tied with a white satin ribbon topped the gift pile at my birthday party. Inside was a sterling silver Venetian link bracelet with a tiny Tiffany & Co. tag.

There was more to the gift than the bracelet – it was the new feeling of opulence that came with the blue box. The mere fact I could own something so precious reinforced that I was special. I still have the box that held my bracelet. It was the experience of the gift that made it memorable.

I am one of 80 million members of Generation Y, born between 1980 and 1995. Many economists say Gen Y is a group to which businesses should pay attention. We are the largest generation since the Baby Boom and are reportedly responsible for $149 billion in annual spending.

Surveys show we strongly affect family purchases. For example, even though I’ve never bought a piece of jewelry, the Tiffany gift I received sparked several other family Tiffany purchases. Additionally, my mother and I (believe it or not) often share jewelry and are mutually affected by what the other likes and is wearing. As Gen Y grows up, we’ll prowl for brands that establish themselves as accessible luxury names – names that make us feel special, and yet are not out of reach.

Tech Savvy

Gen Y is technologically proficient. The Internet pervades every aspect of our lives, from entertainment to e-mail, from studying to shopping. The friend who bought my prized bracelet for my 16th birthday did so on the Tiffany & Co. Web site. This is how brands get our attention.

There’s a tremendous wealth of diverse information available on the Internet. When Gen Y’ers go to retail stores, we expect a similar kind of diversity. Because pieces such as solitaire diamond rings, three-stone jewelry and standard chains are so readily available online, we can sometimes be moved only by things that are interesting, different and new to us.

Retailers can use the Internet to reach younger consumers. Jewelry advertisements in teen magazines may catch our eyes, but if there isn’t a Web site featuring the collections, it sends a negative message – that the company isn’t up-to-date and isn’t interested in our business.

Leave Us Alone

When my mother and I walk into a store, she expects attentive salespeople to answer her questions before she even asks them. I, however, much prefer to spend my time independently and ask questions when I feel the need. Many Gen Y’ers are familiar with shopping online, where we can research every aspect of a product without making any human contact. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking to be ignored, nor is this rule true for all Gen Y’ers. However, it’s important to pay attention to how much attention a customer, especially a younger one, needs and wants.

Forget Rules

Many Gen Y’ers reject old rules about jewelry do’s and don’ts. Asked about the fairly new idea of combining silver and diamonds, Gen Y’ers interviewed for this article asked, “Why not?” When talking about the recent campaigns for right-hand rings, all seemed to agree: if I like a ring, I’m going to wear it and no one should tell me where. One 17-year-old girl went to a jeweler to get a sapphire ring sized for the middle-finger of her left hand. The jeweler almost refused to fit my friend’s ring to that finger. My friend felt as if she was being scolded – not a situation likely to produce a repeat customer.

Gen Y looks for pieces that are wearable. We like things we could wear to a formal event as well as to a movie. But the most important thing to remember about us is that we are tomorrow’s customers. I want to be proud when I tell people where I got my engagement ring, and I want to feel like a princess when I admire it. Make me feel like a princess and I’ll be your customer.

Reaching Gen Y

Establish your store’s brand as having luxury appeal, but accessible to the average person.

Gen Y’ers are accustomed to a wide range of styles on the Internet. We expect the same from you.

Use the Internet to communicate with us. Having a Web site shows a company is in touch with younger people.

Don’t crowd a Gen Y’er – get to know how she shops before you smother her. Many of us are used to independence and self-service online.

Many Gen Y’ers reject old taboos. Help every customer discover her own style when it comes to jewelry.

Carry jewelry that’s wearable and adaptable to many occasions.

– J.E.

– by Julie Eubank

Julie Eubank is a freshman at Haverford College, Haverford, PA. She completed an internship at Professional Jeweler this summer.

Scarlett Johansson and Mischa Barton, cover girls on Elle this year, epitomize the new sophistication and jewelry wearing habits of the young.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications