Millennials are in charge of the next generation of kids.

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Millennials are in charge of the next generation of kids.

By the time Millennials start a family, most will have never had an Argos catalogue in their own home and from 2020, new parents will have never shopped in a nursery specialist chain like Mothercare or visited a Toys R Us.

Millennials have profoundly different experiences, attitudes and practices when it comes to parenting too, which will ultimately have an impact on the toy and nursery industry, shaping the retail landscape, product development and the way brands connect with their target consumer.  Most profoundly, only 65%* of Millennial parents think playtime is important, compared to 85% of Baby Boomers. 

Since 2018 over 79% of new births in Britain have Millennial parents, those adults born between 1981 and 1996, now aged 25 to 39 years old.  They’ve spent most, if not all, of their teenage and adult years living in an internet connected world. Their children, Generation Alpha, have a digital footprint from the day they are born.

The preceding generation, Generation X parents, were early proponents of online shopping, but placed greater trust in the advice of people they knew, valuing the insights from experience which other parents in their personal network passed on to them.  69%* of Millennials say they learn more from the internet and are influenced by the “power of numbers amongst strangers” – the number of followers, shares and likes that a social media influencer, a brand or a product can generate.  Despite acquiring larger quantities of facts, opinions and advice online, Millennials are more prone to feeling overwhelmed by that very same volume of information, and less inclined to trust their own intuition.    

I recently tested a new concept for an educational resource, designed to help parents to support their child in learning to read at home.  Millennial parents were overwhelmed with a fear that they might “do the wrong thing” in trying to teach their children such an essential skill as reading.  What would seem like common sense to Generation X parents is not apparent to the younger generation because the online sources they depend on don’t command the intrinsic trust which comes from a personal connection.

By the time Millennials start a family, they have fewer expectations that they will ever own their own home, have student debts to repay, have less grandparent support in providing childcare and started their careers in an era of post-recession, zero-hour employment uncertainty.  They’re far more conscious of the impact that buying brand new goods will have on the climate and will be less impressed by promises to reduce plastic by 2030.  90%* of them expect companies to take responsibility for their environmental impact now and are already seeking climate friendly, plastic free alternatives.

Brands like IKEA already have a track record, evidence of a commitment to be climate positive and claim that 100% of the cotton and wood used in their products comes from sustainable sources.   They have promoted WWF re-foresting schemes for over 20 years.  They use words and phrases like “free from harmful chemicals” and “naturally sourced” in everything from baby textiles to toys, under the brand umbrella of what conscious consumers perceive to be a sustainable, well designed, trustworthy and affordable Swedish brand.  Without Mothercare and Babies R us, new parents have far fewer opportunities to examine, touch and feel the nursery goods they think they should be buying and crucially, IKEA provides a retail environment in which they still can do that.  The next step for IKEA will be to branch out into more baby categories, such as travel, safety and new-born feeding, and to increase the range of products in categories they already operate in. 

By the time Millennials start a family, most will have never had an Argos catalogue in their own home.  Since 2014, kids’ use of catalogues to show their parents what they want for Christmas has fallen to just 23% of the child population aged 3 to 14.  Compare that to 2009 when use of a catalogue by kids was as high as 69%.  For many years the Argos catalogue was a “top 3 mention” when parents and children were asked where they got their toy ideas from.  Nowadays, Millennial parents need reminding of the very existence of the Argos catalogue, whilst Generation Alpha kids are deprived of the experience of using it altogether.

What is replacing the catalogue for kids?

The retail fixture is losing ground too.  36% fewer kids show their parents what they want by pointing out toys in store.  As internet shopping has grown, visits to large format grocery stores reduced, as toy and nursery specialists closed their doors for the last time, children have had fewer opportunities to browse an adequate in store toy range. 

Online wish-lists have not filled the gap left by catalogues either.  20% of kids get ideas on what they want for Christmas by browsing online, but only 13% make an online wish list.  Independent on-line browsing is confined to kids who can read and type in search terms.  Search is an important part of creating a wish list, as is the display of choices for kids to pick from, but unless and until new UI models are designed with kids in mind, with familiar and appropriate visual semiotics, voice input search mechanisms to match text ones, it’s unlikely that the appeal and adoption of online wish-list creation will surge for pre-literate children any time soon, and will be slow to take off for pre-operational kids too.

BRAND OWNERS: Watch this space for new initiatives by Google and Amazon in voice activation and PPV advertising. Discover the visual semiotics which work at the very youngest age to improve UX for independent search and list compilations.  Accelerate your green initiatives, if not already done.

RETAILERS: Smyths is already increasing its focus on the nursery category to fill the gap left by Mothercare and BRU.  Independents and brand owners can learn from IKEA and create a distinctive proposition for the conscious nursery consumer.  Work with Amazon on its core retail brand, shifting away from Marketplace, to overcome the concerns which Millennial parents have over the provenance of nursery goods from environmental impact to safety and product authenticity. 

*Source: Pew Research (US) for importance of playtime, influence of strangers, climate responsibility

All other data and insights generated by Consumer Fluent Research