NPD: Aspirational Shopping Is Out, Signature Items In

Millennials like to stand out with unique, photo-friendly pieces
April 13, 2017Joanne Friedrick

NPD 2015PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. - The days of the aspirational purchase—buying something because it marks an achievement beyond one’s financial reality—is over and responsible spending has taken its place, according to an NPD Group white paper.

Categories hit hardest by the switch to prioritized purchases—now focused on individuality and artisan or handcrafted items—are high-end categories such as jewelry and handbags, according to the white paper titled, “Retail Reborn: How the Aspirational Purchase Has Shifted.”

High-priced fashion in general has taken a hit, while spending at dollar stores and off-price retail outlets is increasing, NPD reported. A fear of debt and a preference for experience over appearance has helped shape this change.

Millennials, of course, are driving this conversion. And, the report noted, there are opportunities at both brick-and-mortar stores and online to get Millennials to spend. Millennials shop frequently at traditional retail stores, but spend more online. Among their online shopping purchases, apparel and accessories, electronics and accessories and home and kitchen lead the way.

Online shoppers aged 18 to 24 spent $46.37 per receipt on home and kitchen versus $18.90 in brick-and-mortar stores. Millennials between 25 to 34 spent $54.66 per receipt online for home/kitchen items, while ringing up $19.44 in stores.

The factors driving higher online purchases were threefold: minimum order requirements for free shipping; ease of comparing prices for higher-ticket items; and easy return policies for items such as clothing that often require returns.

While high-ticket, aspirational items are declining in popularity, signature items—those pieces that help a consumer stand out from the crowd—are gaining ground. This could be a pair of vintage sneakers or an eco-friendly lunchbox for a child’s first day at school. Signature items are considered ones that are carefully researched and selected and also have photographic appeal because Millennials like to share images and experiences.

Baby Boomers are taking an interest in signature items, too, especially for the home. The report noted that cooking and entertaining at home and home décor are important to Millennials and Boomers. And signature items linked to gatherings of family and friends are important to both groups.

Key items for Millennials include conversation-starting small appliances such as high-end coffee makers and pressure cookers, while non-electric housewares and textiles resonate with Baby Boomers.

So when should retailers be targeting these Millennial and Baby Boomer shoppers during the holidays? In-store purchases of housewares and small appliances tend to happen on Saturdays in December, while online purchases are concentrated on Black Friday weekend.

Joanne FriedrickJoanne Friedrick | Contributing Editor

Joanne Friedrick is a contributing editor for HFN with more than 20 years of retail and housewares business reporting, writing and editing. For the past 15 years she has been operating her own business with clients that include Convenience Distribution, Seafood Source and Zest, a Maine-focused consumer food and lifestyle magazine.


  • Adriana Hoyos Relaunches Brand at High Point Market

    Camera Icon   More Videos

Subscribe to
HFN Omnichannel
Receive the news you need to know about the trends in the industry delivered right to your inbox.

Current Issue

  • HFN cover for September 2017


    September 2017


    2017 State of the Industry Report
    Cautious Optimism, Mixed Results

    Many expected 2016 would be a banner year, but the political and economic climate softened consumer confidence. It was also a year consumers spent more lavishly on home remodeling rather than decorating.


    •  TJX Unveils First U.S. Homesense Store - In a time when retailers are reducing store counts, TJX continues to get physical.
    •   Ikea’s Fluid Spaces - The retailer’s new intros reflect multifunctional rooms.
    •  N.Y. Home Fashions Market Preview - Textile textures get soft and cozy, colors warmer.