Birds without a nest – generation rent and the homeware boom

Latest figures from Mintel indicate that the ‘Homeware’ sector saw a 2.5% rise in sales in 2018, primarily driven by so-called ‘Generation Rent’. But for a generation known for its inability to put down roots, why are Millennials so obsessed with home décor?

Many moons ago, I moved with two of my friends into a rented house in Withington. Pretty much the first thing we did after signing the lease was arrange a trip to Ikea, spending an eye-watering amount on cushions, throws, knick-knacks and trinkets to make the place feel like ‘ours’; and it seems we weren’t alone.

Whilst renters have traditionally been viewed as a low-value target for home interest brands, Mintel suggests that many private renters are actively buying furniture, decorating products and homeware in order to personalise their homes and better reflect their sense of style. So why are renters suddenly so invested in homeware?  

We’ve all heard of “nesting instinct”. It’s often associated with pregnant women decorating and organising nurseries for their new arrival, however the same instincts have been identified by psychologists at other times – particularly during periods of stress and transition. With 1/3 of Millennials expected never to own their own home, and nearly half living in their current property for less than two years, the rental experience could certainly be described as a state of “transition”.

The impact of this is seen most often after a move, when updating home furnishings and décor can help people to feel that they are restoring some order to their lives, moving them out of the ‘transition’ state faster. With renters tending to move much more frequently than homeowners, that creates a much shorter purchase lifecycle.

On top of this, the so-called “endowment effect” has an important role to play. This hypothesis suggests that we ascribe more value to things just by owning them, with possessions becoming a way to assert our identity to ourselves and others. Many Millennials grew up in a society that taught them home ownership was the ultimate status symbol, signalling a transition in to ‘true’ adulthood. However, if many can’t buy the house, are they instead placing higher importance on the objects they use to furnish and decorate the property instead?

For home interest brands, there are a couple of key things to take away from all of this.

Firstly, don’t ignore the rental market. Fair enough – they’re unlikely to be undertaking any major kitchen refurbishments or ripping out the bathroom, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have value in the homeware market. Don’t assume that your audience are all homeowners and consider which product features might be more appealing to an audience of renters. If they can take items with them when they inevitably move again, the data suggests that they are prepared to invest in creature comforts that make their rental spaces feel more like home. Think décor and accessories, small domestic appliances and furnishings that are easy to pack up and move.

Secondly, think about the key role that inspiration plays in marketing to this audience. Renters are actively seeking ways to express themselves and their individuality, but they are also actively looking for brands and products that help them to bring their style to life. Research shows that 36% of 25-34 year olds enjoy sharing pictures of their home online, and many follow relevant content on channels such as Pinterest and Instagram, so consider how you are currently using social media to appeal to that frame of mind.

Is your content visually appealing? Are you showing your audience how products can be used to achieve different looks and suit different tastes? Are you tracking the performance of different styles and aesthetics in order to understand which your audience prefer?  

These are the key questions you should be asking to maximise your appeal and ensure this audience isn’t left behind.

If you’re interested in growing your audience by appealing to Generation Rent, get in touch to discuss your project.