Four things you need to know about Millennials, mobile adoption, and performance expectations

This past summer, Strangeloop was fortunate to welcome some excellent interns, who’ve just returned to school. While not all were developer types, I was really struck by how comfortable they all seemed when working with and talking about new technologies. We could throw anything at them — including some tricky research projects — and their ability to innovate on their feet was incredible.

While there’s something to be said for our ability to pick awesome interns, I think these  observations are an indicator of a larger trend. While it’s a total cliché to talk about how wired kids are these days, it’s a cliché for a reason: all the college/university-aged people I know take mobile devices and connectivity as a given. It’s no coincidence that Amazon chose the first week of school to make a bunch of big announcements about its e-reader and tablet products.

To me, this marks a critical opportunity to talk about the major shifts we’re going to see in consumer behaviour as “Millennials” (not a term I’m a fan of, by the way; feel free to suggest another) enter the mainstream media/commerce marketplace. I want to use this post to corral some interesting research about the next generation of mainstream web users, from their use of mobile devices to their performance expectations.*

Why a post that focuses on young people, and on students in particular?

We can’t fall into the Victorian trap of thinking that younger people are just nascent versions of ourselves. For a number of reasons — from neurological to cultural — people between the ages of 18-25 think differently and use the web and technology differently.

Millennials are the next generation of mainstream media consumers and online shoppers. As they emerge into their full consumer power in the next few years, site owners who are prepared to respond to their online expectations will have a serious competitive advantage.

Most students are online…

  • 98-99% of undergraduate and graduate students access the internet, compared to 75% of all adults [*]
  • 93% of students research online rather than at the library [*]
  • 70% of students use laptops or tablets instead of pen and paper for taking notes [*]
  • e-text sales have grown from $5M to $47M between 2005 and 2012 [*]

…and most are mobile.

  • 92% use smartphones, tablets, or laptops to go online, compared to 57% of all adults. [*]
  • Nearly half of smartphone users ages 18-29 (45%) do most of their online browsing on their phone, compared to 29% of adults 30-49. [*]
  • Tablet ownership among college students and high school seniors has risen dramatically in just one year — from 7% in 2011 to 25% in January 2012. [*]
  • As well, in January 2012, over one-third of college students (36%) and one-quarter of college-bound high school seniors (26%) said they planned to purchase a tablet in the next six months. [*]
  • Most students believe print textbooks will be obsolete in five years. [*]

(I’d love to get my eyeballs on more recent data on tablet ownership. Anyone?)

Millennials are more efficient…

In usability tests on reasonably well-designed applications, young people are much better than average at completing tasks (in one case, 100% success rate, compared to a 75% success rate for the general adult population). [*]

…and more impatient.

Despite (or because of) this higher level of efficiency, they have dramatically lower patience levels than the general adult population when pages are slow or behave clumsily. [*]

Final thoughts: If this information is self-evident, why are so many sites and applications still so slow?

Some of this research might seem self-evident to you (it certainly did to me), but it still bears mentioning. Why? Because we know these four things:

  1. Millennials are set to surge into mainstream consumerism of media, products, and workplace applications.
  2. Millennials would rather do most things online.
  3. Millennials are extremely good at completing online tasks (such as, say, filling and checking out a shopping cart).
  4. Millennials are one of the fastest-growing groups of mobile adopters.

And yet despite knowing these things, most sites today are still far too slow and far too clunky — especially for mobile users.

Site owners and app vendors have a clear opportunity to appeal to this very appealing demographic simply by making their pages faster. And most site owners and app vendors are missing out.

*This ended up being more challenging than I expected. Trying to find up-to-date research is next to impossible, due to the fact that technology and young people have two things in common: they’re both incredibly fluid and adaptive. In other words, they both change and evolve extremely quickly. (e.g. Studies that are just a couple of years old cite the incredible popularity of MySpace.)

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