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Serving Today’s Military Consumers

4 minute read | November 2014

Veterans Day, originally founded to remember the cease-fire of World War I, has become a day for Americans to remember and honor all veterans, as well as active-duty members of the U.S. military.

But we aren’t the only ones who should remember these national heroes. Whether they’re on active duty or have already served their country, today’s military members and their families are also consumers. By understanding these shoppers and their families’ unique consumer habits, retailers and manufacturers can better reach this segment of the population and serve their specific needs.

Who are today’s military consumers?

Active-duty consumers are young, family-oriented and diverse. Almost half (44.6%) of active-duty family heads are under 35 years old, compared with 15.8% of total U.S. shoppers. A fair number of these young consumers haven’t settled down yet: 20.5% are young transitionals, who are single or just married and don’t have kids. This is also significantly more than the overall population, which is just 7.5%.

However, a majority (59.5%) of active-duty shoppers have families. And many of the families are young—28.2% of have kids under the age of six, which is significantly more than 10.7% of the general population.

Active-duty consumers are well represented by different multicultural groups. Just below 40% of these shoppers are non-Caucasian, which is more than the 23.7% of the country’s total population. Of these, 15.1% are African-American and 7.7% are Asian-American. Meanwhile, 17.7% of active-duty consumers identify as Hispanic, more than the 12.3% of all U.S. shoppers.

When we include retired military and reserve members to better understand the total military population in the U.S., these consumers skew older. For all military members, 16.2% of family heads are 65 years old or older, compared with 13.4% of the total U.S. population. In addition, military consumers are more likely than the overall population to identify as senior couples, empty nest couples or older bustling families. Given this group’s significant representation from those at retirement age, it’s not surprising that 40% of family heads are currently not employed.

Both active duty and total military consumers tend to live in the country. Twenty-four percent of active-duty and 19.9% of total military consumers identify as “comfortable country,” meaning they live at the edge of major metropolitan markets or smaller cities. People in this segment tend to be interested in family, home and outdoor activities like fishing and boating. In addition, 22.5% of total military are from small towns and rural areas.

And the South is predominately where military consumers call home: 40.4% of active-duty members and 43.9% of total military members live in southern states. In addition, 30.8% of active-duty consumers live in the western region of the U.S.

Where are these consumers spending?

With active families and lifestyles, these consumers are spending in different ways than the country’s general population. While grocery stores top the list of non-military outlets where military consumers overspend compared with the country’s total population, these shoppers also spend more at home improvement and auto stores.

The military fosters resourcefulness in its members, so it’s no surprise that 64.2% of all military consumers make purchases at home improvement stores versus 51% of the general population. Additionally, military consumers spent an average of $408 per person at home improvement stores in 2013, compared with an average of $290 per person for the general population.

Many of the top home improvement buys for military consumers compared to the general population are for outdoor projects, including lawn and soil fertilizers and treatments, garden and patio items, and home and outdoor weather supplies. And to get these projects done, 53% of these consumers are spending on hardware, compared with 40% of the total U.S. consumers.

In a similar vein to home improvement, more military consumers also spend at auto stores than the general population: 14.7% versus 9%. And 60.9% of military consumers say they’ve bought automotive goods, compared with 48.8% of overall consumers.

Reaching Today’s Military Consumers

Military consumers have different habits than the overall population. But retailers and manufactures can connect with them by keeping their age, demographics and locations in mind when marketing to these important shoppers. In addition, military themes could help the home improvement and automotive industries attract these consumers.


The insights and data on military consumers and active-duty military in this article were derived from the Nielsen HomeScan DeCA (Defense Commissary Agency) database that tracks consumer spending at military commissaries and exchanges.

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