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How Our Adult Kids Are Changing Holiday Shopping

Taking tips from discount-savvy millennials

This holiday shopping season our adult children are making a list and checking it not twice, but multiple times — on social media, with online retailers and discount sites, and even at the mall. Spending an estimated $63 billion, the country's 75 million millennials have attracted the attention of marketers and retailers, not to mention parents who are wondering what to give them.

How millennials are changing the landscape for holiday shopping


Young adults scour sites such as Instagram and Pinterest looking for gift ideas.

While boomers have more discretionary income, millennials are not far behind. By 2017, our adult kids are expected to have more buying power than any other generation.

So how do boomers and millennials differ when it comes to shopping? While both generations buy online, young adults are less click-and-buy shoppers than their parents. They first scour sites such as Instagram and Pinterest looking for ideas and then use social-media crowdsourcing and online reviews to find the best products. When they are ready to buy, they'll use a phone app to find a coupon for the best discount. And they'll go to a store to seal the deal, especially if there's some added attraction such as North's Face's virtual reality glasses or a Lands' End dressing-room "selfie station."

Because of their buying power, millennials have generated lots of research. Some key findings:

Favorite brands. No surprises with Apple, followed by Nike, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft in the top five. Non-tech companies that placed high include Target, Amazon and Starbucks, according to an ad agency survey.

Gifting themselves. The typical shopper will spend $805, and lured by tempting sales, more than half will toss something into the cart for themselves. Again, millennials outrank their elders in self-gifting by spending 24 percent of their total budget on items for themselves, compared with 15 percent of older shoppers, a PwC survey found.

Buying "experiences." Millennials just want to have fun — at a concert, in a cooking class or flying in coach — rather than stuff, especially since so many are still living with parents and don't have space. They will spend about 52 percent of their gift budget for experience-related purchases, versus 39 percent for older shoppers. Many are giving those experience gifts, such as a spin or yoga class, to parents to do together.

We did a little research of our own and called Erin Lowry, a millennial who writes a popular money-advice blog, Broke Millennial. Lowry, who also works as a content director at a New York City start-up, offered some insight when it comes to holiday gifts. She agreed that millennials do lots of online research before buying gifts, adding that they are also savvy about getting points on their credit cards, rebates and cash back before spending hard-earned dollars. "Millennials really know how to hack the system to get the best deals and the lowest prices," she said.

When it comes to getting or giving gifts, young adults are influenced by social media and what others are buying, and by listicles of best gifts. She admitted they are not beyond Googling "10 best gifts for parents" or whomever.

What's on Lowry's list this year? At age 26, with a good job and her own apartment, she's ready to move beyond the cheap cookware she had in college. She pointed out that in another era, young adults her age would already be married and have received quality cookware as shower or wedding gifts. "Many millennials are not married but still want nice things for their apartments like a good coffeemaker or decent pots and pans," she said. Beyond that, she's a big believer in giving and getting experiences as gifts. "A massage or a wine tasting is not a gift that you will shove in the back of a closet."

She recently bought a family member a New York City chocoholics walking tour as a gift and another a Jewish food tour of the Lower East Side. Beyond the fun of the tours, she said, "You're sharing it with someone close and creating a memory."

So, parents, we know what the kids want. Do they know what we want? An informal survey of boomer parents came up with same answer repeatedly: "Time together as a family." That, too, will create memories.

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering.