What Generation Gap?
August 2013, Auto Dealer Today - Feature
I’m a Gen X editor with a Gen Y staff and, boy, was my team up in arms last month. They had been subjected to a string of articles focused on their generation. It seems just about everyone has a bead on what Gen Y wants. Problem is, my junior editors weren’t buying anything my writers were selling.
The final insult was an article submitted by Jim Ziegler, a proud baby boomer and regular columnist for ADM’s sister publication, F&I and Showroom magazine. He took shots at Gen Y and Gen X, calling us all “a lazy bunch of slackers.” When I told a contemporary what Ziegler wrote about Gen X, he responded with a link to the University of Michigan’s 2011 Longitudinal Study of American Youth. Not only did it show that 86 percent of my generation is employed, it reported that 70 percent of Gen Xers devote 40 or more hours to work each week.
But I guess banging on previous generations is kind of a rite of passage. I mean, I find myself poking fun at my Gen Y team all the time. I rib them about everything from their taste in music to their decision-making process. But you know what? They are no different than I was at their age. And that was Ziegler’s message.
Yeah, “Da Man” took some shots at my generation to make his point, but his conclusion is that no generation is different than the next. And I agree. Yes, the Internet has made consumers more aware, but any disdain they have for the dealership experience, at least in my opinion, probably originated from their parents. Hey, most of the laws governing what happens inside the dealership were written during their parents’ time.
But what I think does make Gen Y different is that they lived through one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. And if you had family that lived through the ’30s, you know what that did to their psyche. Heck, I’ll never forget my great aunt slapping my hand after I dropped a quarter into a video game at a pizza joint. She even demanded that the manager return my 25 cents.
Back in 2009, Fidelity Investments released a study that backs my take. It showed that 41 percent of working Americans between the ages of 22 and 33 years old said the economic crisis made their generation conservative. When Fidelity conducted the same study in 2008, 75 percent said they were looking for work/life balance in their career. That changed in the 2009 study, with Gen Yers saying they were placing a bigger emphasis on employer benefits. The study even found that more Gen Yers in 2009 showed reluctance to “job hop,” with one in four indicating their intent to remain with their current employer until retirement, up from 14 percent in the 2008 study. I know that stat doesn’t help you sell anything, but I thought I’d add it because there seems to be a consensus out there that Gen Y isn’t loyal.
What I’m getting at here is that we can’t forget the outside forces that have shaped not only Gen Y, but aging generations as well. In other words, we can’t forget how spooked consumers became after what’s transpired over the last five years. And that’s why I think they do so much research. They’re looking for anything to validate their reason for wanting a new vehicle.
I guess I believe that many of the shopping behaviors we talk about today may not be true in the near future. And that goes for the amount of time people research before pulling the trigger. I just don’t think the current rate is going to hold. In fact, I think the Internet will speed up shopping times as we put more distance between ourselves and the Great Recession. Recent studies prove it. For instance, back in 2011, Polk and AutoTrader conducted a survey of 4,005 U.S. consumers. The average time spent online shopping that year was between 18 and 19 hours. In this year’s study, the average dropped to 13.75 hours.
I think there are several forces contributing to that decrease. As you’ve heard over and over, customers are driving their vehicles until the wheels fall of. I know I am. My ’97 Honda Accord is closing in on 250,000 miles and I just can’t let it go. It still runs, and with a wife and kid at home, I’m having trouble pulling the trigger on a lot of purchases these days. But that’s quickly changing.
My main point here is to not overthink Gen Y. I agree we need to understand where and how they’re shopping so we’re sure we can reach them through our marketing. But, again, Gen Y, in my opinion, ultimately wants what everybody else wants: A good deal, a good experience and to be treated right.