Millennials, Love and Payments in the Time of Covid

Millennials date and pay for things differently than earlier generations.

How will you be paying for that?

Even before the pandemic, the two youngest generations in the U.S. have been making purchases differently. Mobile wallets and payment applications like PayPal and Venmo have been replacing credit cards for millennials and gen z. And it’s been a very long long time since cash was king.

Having faced various events beyond their control – not just 9/11, but also seeing their careers upended in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 – millennials crave greater financial stability. And having come of age during the pandemic, gen z want to exert a measure of control over their destinies. One way they’re doing this is via their finances, by buying things in innovative ways. For instance, they’re the generation with whom the buy now, pay later (BNPL) payment method has become the most popular.

Credit card cutters

Millennials don’t like credit cards as much as other generations. During the 2021 holiday season, Lending Tree reported that interest in applying for store cards dropped to its lowest level since 2018. A mere 29% of consumers were considering applying for a store credit card compared to 44% in 2020, 32% in 2019 and 24% in 2018.

Credit card antipathy begins to make sense in light of the fact that older members of gen z came of age after the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 made it harder to get credit cards, requiring proof of income or requiring a cosigner. Today, barely more than half of eligible gen z’ers hold a credit card, compared with 66% of millennials.

That’s not to say that the youngest generations don’t like to buy things. Far from it – they just buy differently.

Millennials and gen z buy more luxury items than other generations.

Younger people have come to the luxury market more recently than the older generations did. But here’s a startling fact: According to Klarna data, gen z and millennials are even more likely to purchase luxury items than their elders. Over a recent 12-month period, the four main generations purchased luxury items as follows: gen z (60%), millennials (63%), gen x (46%) and baby boomers (18%). While the data is surprising, the takeaway is simple: These younger generations buy more luxury items than we previously thought. They have untapped potential that marketers are better positioned to tap into as they come to understand gen z and millennials more deeply.

The youngest generations aren’t just buying and paying differently, but they’re also living differently. They’re socializing in new ways. In particular, not only due to the pandemic, but also technological advancements, they’ve taken bold steps to digitize one of the most personal parts of their lives: dating.

For merchants looking to understand their customers more deeply – and market to them more effectively – their dating behavior is a vital window into how these two rising segments make decisions.

Got a hot (Zoom) date?

Today’s youngest generations are millennials, born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 26 to 41 in 2022), and generation z, born from 1997 onward (25 and younger).

Just a couple months into the pandemic in 2020, almost 60% of U.S. millennials were using dating apps even more than before Covid. As much as 31% began using online dating apps or services much more – and 26% somewhat more – than prior to the global health crisis. Put another way, only 12% of U.S. millennial dating app users were using dating apps much less.

A little background: Among millennials and gen z, video dating – especially first dates via video – has increased over the past decade. Indeed, pre-Covid, as much as 19% of those surveyed in a recent Rutgers University study had engaged in online dating.

But the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the online romance trend. Since 2020, these interactions have increased to 27 percent – with more than 50% of gen z and millennials video chatting before the first date, according to Rutgers.

Online dating is far from new. has been around since the first web browser was released in 1995. And nor are video calls a novelty – far from it. Anyone who works from home or hybrid knows first-hand the ubiquity of Zoom calls.

But until just recently, dating has been about getting together in-person – and a full embrace of video dating is truly a recent phenomenon.

According to Rutgers anthropology professor Helen Fisher, “What they reported about these video dates is that they had more meaningful conversations, more honesty and more self disclosure.”

Chief scientific adviser to the dating site, Dr. Fisher has learned that these singles consider video an appropriate way to make a romantic connection. In fact, 78% say they noticed romantic chemistry during video chats – and 34% could envision falling in love over Zoom.

Millennials and gen z check social media before making big purchases more than older generations.

 Looking for luxury – via technology 

How millennials and gen z date says a lot about how they operate. They select people to be in their romantic lives in ways that are quite similar to how they make significant buying decisions – with technology front and center in the process.

To establish a baseline for comparison, how do the different generations decide what to buy? Let’s take luxury shopping as an example. Among U.S. luxury shoppers in general, 73% procure a product only after discovering it on a social media platform such as Instagram. But the percentage of people who check social media before making a buying decision is substantially higher for gen z (84%) and millennials (78%).

In essence, the younger generations use social media to curate the products in their lives more intensively. As a part of the buying process, they examine what other people are saying about brands and products – not just what the brands are saying.

How do your customers want to pay?

The old adage “treat others as you’d like to be treated” isn’t exactly right. In life as in payments, people want to do things their preferred way. Merchants should think about payments the same way. Particularly when it comes to younger buyers with tech savvy, it’s important to offer optimal payment flexibility. No longer is accepting only credit cards enough. Your business should consider accepting not only digital wallets, but also options including PayPal and BNPL.

Learn more about BNPL

What BNPL is and how it works

5 key benefits of BNPL for merchants

Millennials and gen z use technology to make decisions both when dating and making purchases.

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