Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, released her annual report on Internet trends at the end of May. The report is widely anticipated and provides a thorough (197 presentation slides, each one worthy of digestion and discussion) snapshot of today’s numbers as compared to previous benchmarks from 1995 on.

The full presentation is easily found (where else?) on the Internet, along with many “key point” distillations. I think it’s worth your time to look at one of the pre-chewed versions, at the least. But some of the points Meeker makes in her presentation are worth thinking about in the context of the music products industry.

First, a few stats, so the broad scope of the trends is in place for you. All “current” numbers reflect the end of 2014.

-About 2.9 billion people (39 percent of the world population) are on the Internet in some fashion. The other 61 percent will be far more challenging, because most of those people are in underdeveloped or remote areas. However, they will also be more likely to use the Internet to its fullest once connected.

-In the U.S., adults spend an average of 5.6 hours per day—about a third of their waking hours—working with digital devices of some sort. Three hours of it—more than half—is on mobile devices. The entire increase since 2005 is in mobile.

– Even so, mobile traffic accounts for only 22 percent of U.S. Internet traffic. (India? 65 percent; Nigeria? 76 percent.) Despite the hours we spend on social media and shopping, we’re 19th of the top 25 Meeker listed.
n Mobile growth is slowing in the U.S.: Two percent in number of users; nine percent in smartphones. Contrast that with India’s parallel numbers of 33 percent and 55 percent.

-Areas poised for the biggest growth in implementation, disruptive business models, etc.: Healthcare, Education, Banking and Transportation.

For all the truth behind the trends that Meeker cites, our industry is not in line for complete disruption the way transportation or banking might be. I think our disruption hit when national chains and Amazon changed the marketplace. Now, our task is to look for the sociological trends that Meeker’s report suggests, because I believe those will affect us more and, in fact, are already in play.

First of all, Meeker shows us that the Millennials (those born 1986 to 2004 in her rendering) are now the largest percentage of our workforce (35 percent), even though a portion of them is not even 16. (Thank college entrepreneurs and the wave of tech jobs for that.) They now begin to drive the economy, taking the torch directly from the Baby Boomers. (What happened to Gen-X? Because of their smaller numbers, the Boomers outnumbered them in the workforce through 2010 and, now, it’s the Millennials. Sorry, “Breakfast Club” members.) For the next few years, we will have a transitional economy: the Boomers are staying in the workforce longer (still 31 percent)—whether because of need or vitality—whereas the Millennials are (increasingly) pushing their upwardly mobile (pun intended) lifestyle on all fronts. We know a bit about the Boomers…but who are the new kids?

Meeker reports the two things most Millennials cite for job satisfaction are “flex hours” and “cash bonus.” Many live a lifestyle that embodies freedom…but high-consumption freedom requires capital. Some reject owning big stuff like homes and cars, opting to pay rentals and subscriptions to keep their options open. Others are delaying the big stuff while paying off college. But they like their leisure, they like to spend on themselves and they will pay for convenience.

I’ve already seen an uptick in the thirst for “saving me time” convenience. I have customers happy to order from us instead of Amazon, because they can offload the task without burning time searching, worrying about security, or dealing with incessant ads and e-mails for the product they just bought. Yes, highly knowledgeable consumers might be fine on their own, but our industry’s growth is in the new player and hobbyist…and they don’t know it all. They want a guide.

We see more and more people handing us their instruments for cleaning, restringing or just a “check over” the way a person might have his or her lawn mower serviced at the start of a season. Could they do it themselves? Many could, but they’d rather not. People want their time back to do fun stuff…and time is money. It helps, too, that you can’t download a repair, but concierge apps to save people time and fuss are all over the startup world. Half our battle is educating consumers about maintenance, because they don’t have any clue about it.

Of course, in many situations (like banking), Millennials want fewer “touch points” with people and the ability to do it all on their phones. But music in so many ways is hands on, and part of the fun is touching the gear and talking about it. There’s also too much information out there. I’m seeing more people of all ages come in with questions and needs, numbed or bewildered by conflicting information, opinionated trolls or even fraud online. They want a customized shopping experience, and they already mistrust algorithms that pretend to know them.

What we need to sell in our stores is convenience, access and expertise, tailored to the needs of each customer. It’s a lot more work, because we have to be absolutely in stock on the everyday needs, ready to go to bat with concierge services and knowledgeable about what we sell. But that isn’t just what Millennials want…it’s what everyone wants nowadays, if we can find it. Millennials are just the most insistent, and they’re perfectly willing to find other channels if we won’t provide for them.

But another Millennial trend is right up our alley: to hold onto their freedom and to support their spending style, this generation is getting their income from a variety of sources at once: a flex-hours job, driving for Uber on the side, selling on eBay or Etsy, etc. Heck, musicians have been doing that forever…juggling gigs, teaching, day jobs.

We get this. We know these people. We can do the future.

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