The Empowered Marketer: How Millennials are Shaping Ecommerce


If you’re exhausted after years of constant trend stories about Millenials, you’re not alone.

Millenials are Killing Diamonds! Millenials are Killing Cars! And now that Gen Z is almost of age, the trend stories for that generation are starting up too.

It may be tiring, but for B2C brands that sell products to that exact demographic, it’s incredibly important to understand younger buyers and what they value. But how do you find that out?

Shockingly, you shouldn’t just read the headlines. Instead, you have to actually talk to young people and ask them what they’re buying, why they’re buying it, and what is most important to them.

No one knows that better than MaryLeigh Bliss, the Chief Content Officer of Ypulse. Ypulse is a youth market research company that digs into 13 to 36 year old’s consumer habits and preferences. They work with brands like MTV, Intel, and Bridgestone among others to offer in-depth, trend-focused research that helps brands actually understand Gen Y and Z.

In this interview with The Empowered Marketer, MaryLeigh shares:

  • The importance of video and visuals for any ecommerce brands
  • The trends driving purchasing habits for Gen Y and Gen Z
  • Why chatbots are the next big thing for ecommerce
  • …and much more


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1. How does Ypulse come up with the data on trends for Gen Y and Gen Z? How do you conduct the research?

Ypulse is amazing because it has its own proprietary panel of young consumers called SurveyU. It’s an amazingly engaged group of thousands and thousands of 13 to 35-year-olds who are taking our surveys, participating in our online panels, and giving us daily access to what young people are really interested in. It’s a huge resource to be able to tap into young consumers so instantly and easily, and that’s what Ypulse provides.

2. Why do you think it’s so hard for many B2C brands to connect with younger audiences? What is the most common mistake you see?

It’s difficult for some brands to connect with young audiences because assumptions are made about the next generation of consumers without looking at what their lives are like on a day-to-day basis. Some brands will go off of a headline or a stereotype about Millennials or Gen Z and make decisions about their consumer based on these assumptions. I think that’s a huge mistake because the reality of young consumers’ lives can be very different from the stereotypes.

It’s very easy for previous generations to look at the younger generations they’re creating brands and products for, and have this bias. To provide the products and the stories that young consumers are really going to respond to, you have to put those stereotypes and that bias aside. You have to figure out what their lives are really like instead of going off those big headlines.

3. What are some of the main differences between Millennials and Gen Z in terms of e-commerce habits, specifically?

Gen Z is still so young that we really haven’t seen the true power of their ecommerce capabilities come to light. Millennials are leading the charge when it comes to ecommerce. They’re really the ones who have adopted it wholeheartedly. They’re shopping on Amazon more than any other store. But Gen Z is still so young that many of them don’t have credit cards yet, so it’s not really possible for them to participate. That being said, they’re spending so much of their time online, and their devices are really seamlessly integrated into their shopping in different ways. They might be using their devices in-store to compare prices, or also to talk to their friends to figure out what they want to buy and whether they should buy something.
They’re already integrating their phones into their in-store shopping, so it’s not too great a leap to see then that they’ll become huge ecommerce consumers as well once they have the tools to do it.

4. Let’s talk about some of the trends that you’ve identified that are important to both Millenials and Gen Z. What is one trend that is shaping the market right now for brands?

Young consumers’ patience is at an all-time low, and we know that because we wrote a trend called Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That years ago. We did a checkup on that trend, re-ran that survey along with new questions to see where young consumers were today. What we’ve seen is across the board, their patience is even lower. Their expectations for brands to create and provide speedy processes that don’t waste time is even higher.

We see that 74% of 13 to 35-year-olds tell us that they get very frustrated by things that waste their time. Often, it can be the ecommerce experience or the in-store experience that they feel is wasting time. Over half tell us that they have left a store when they intended to buy something because the checkout line was too long. Their behavior is impacted by the expectation that things will happen at the snap of a finger or the click of a button — and their ecommerce expectations are moving offline as well.

We see that 84% tell us that they’re interested in stores with no checkout lines at all, so you see experiments like the Amazon Go grocery store where Prime members can walk in, fill their carts, and then walk out and have everything automatically charged to them without ever standing in a line. These are massively appealing concepts to young consumers. Over half tell us that brands should cut out as many steps as possible, so think about one-click purchase, not just on websites, but also in-store as well.

5. One of the other interesting trends is specifically looking at young Gen Z and Millennial men. How are brands changing how they appeal to this group?

We’ve really found young male consumers are a group that brands often don’t understand, and find very difficult to reach. For example, over half of 18 to 35-year-old males have an ad blocker and use it. About half of 13 to 17-year-old males do as well. It’s difficult for brands to not only figure out where young males today are spending their time and what their interests are, but also to get their advertisements to come through in those places.

We wanted to do a deep dive and look at Gen Z and Millennial male consumers and figure out what their interests are, but also what brands need to know to reach them. What we found was a lot of the stereotypes about males have really been broken by these two generations. They’re not happy necessarily with the way that brands talk to them or perceive them. For example, 59% of Millennial males say that brands make people of their gender look dumb.

There are still prevailing stereotypes in representing young males in advertisements and marketing that they’re actively rejecting. The number one stereotype they wish that brands would stop using in marketing is hypermasculinity. The idea that males need to be hypermasculine is something that Gen Z and Millennial males really have rejected. Overall, the idea of gender is much more flux and fluid than it has been for previous generations. Brands really are catching up, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Millennial dads are a great example. They feel that they’re not really spoken to on the same level or in the same ways that Millennial moms are — even though when we talk to young males, over three-quarters of young males want to settle down and have a family. Those who have already done that feel that they are more involved than their fathers were. They are making those decisions, but they’re still not spoken to by brands as if they have that kind of influence.

6. Do you have any examples of a brand that has jumped on this, and done a good job of reaching this audience?

One really interesting examples is Axe, which completely pivoted their marketing in recent years away from hypermasculinity and those older stereotypes about men only wanting to attract women and using sex appeal as their platform for their product. Today, they’re more about diversity and different representations of what men can look like and what they can be interested in. We continue to see that Axe is named by young males as a brand that understands them. So through that pivot of the brand, they’ve really embraced that. That’s a great example of a brand that’s completely changed the way that they speak to young men, based on what they see in these younger generations.

7. What do you think is coming next in terms of trends for Gen Z and Millennials? What do you think that ecommerce and B2C brands should really be paying attention to?

These are only reaching a niche group of consumers right now, but are potential big players for the future of commerce. One is chatbots. Consumers don’t really use that word, but brands and marketers know what chatbots are and see the potential. The idea of retail through messaging is only in the beginning of its potential. We see things like companies that are making millions of dollars by texting suggestions to young consumers and having all of their information built in to their system already so that they can then just reply yes in order to make a purchase. There’s a really large potential because of the convenience and the personalization that really appeals to young consumers. I think chatbot retail is a big space to watch.

The other is smart homes. Again, a very small group of consumers using it right now, but the interest is fairly high when we look at young consumers. Right now, buying things through a home speaker is still clunky. There are still mistakes to be made, but I think that brands should be paying attention to that as at least a technology that could play a role in a larger number of young consumers’ lives in the future.

If you’d like to learn more about retail and ecommerce trends for Gen Y and Gen Z, visit

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