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What drives millennial buying decisions?

Millennials have become the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

But they aren’t just workers. They also are consumers. And businesses are starting to target them, paying attention to the generation’s habits, as well as its limitations.

In addition to having fewer children, many young professionals are swapping out conventional consumer routes after college for a better-defined work-life balance.

Instead of buying a home or car, for example, young professionals may seek greater financial independence, a period to establish and grow a career, or time spent with a modest amount of discretionary income for recreation and travel, said Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.

Millennials may also have their hands tied from making larger purchases as a result of student debt.

Pennsylvania ranked second nationally in student debt at an average of $35,759 per graduate from the class of 2016, according to The Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit organization. Nationally, personal finance website Make Lemonade reports that the average student nationwide in the class of 2016 had $37,172 in student loan debt.

“Student debt has a considerable impact on our economy by lessening a millennial’s disposable income,” Schreiber said.

In fact, a 2018 report by the National Association of Realtors found that student debt has prevented about 80 percent of non-homeowners from buying a home, said Shanna Terroso, executive officer at the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties.

Nonetheless, millennials still account for more than a third, or 36 percent, of all home purchases in the past year – 65 percent of whom were also first-time homebuyers.

The report also showed that 90 percent of home buyers searched online first.

Having grown up in an age when they were never without computers, millennials are hyperconnected. Because a digital device is always within arm’s reach, anything that takes time can be frustrating, said Alissa Carpenter, a Philadelphia-based millennial expert and training consultant. Millennials also value learning experiences and experience-driven events, she added.

Hanover Volkswagen caters to that approach. The car dealership in Oxford Township, Adams County, has invested in creating experiences by installing a private garage it refers to as a “delivering shoot” to showcase a customer’s new purchase, said Bradley A. Smith, general manager of Hanover Volkswagen.

The vehicle the customer is buying is parked next to the sales desk as they are walked through the financing and purchase process. Once the purchase is complete, the dealership captures the experience with a photograph and the new owner drives out of the showroom through a separate garage.

“It’s more than purchasing a car. This is an investment. It’s an extension of our buyer’s life and personality and we want to make a big deal about it for our customers,” Smith said.

Emily Thurlow
​Emily Thurlow covers York County​ for the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a tip? Drop her a line at [email protected].

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