What Do Millennials Actually Use Venmo For?

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The Venmo app.
The Venmo app. Credit: Venmo

Pizza. Beer. Rogue eggplant? These are the emojis that delineate what users of the much-beloved mobile payment app Venmo spend money on, according to a recent study of transaction descriptions.

After analyzing more than 500,000 public Venmo payments, researchers at student loan marketplace LendEdu determined that a slice of pizza and a small flying stack of money were the most frequently used emojis.

It makes sense given the app's majority base of millennial users who both enjoy the cheesy, cheap dinner option and don't often carry cash. Alcohol-related emojis, such as champagne, wine and beer, swept four of the top 10 spots for emojis used. The playful illustrations, beverage related and otherwise, are used in about a third of all Venmo activity.

Venmo isn't just for booze and the food necessary to balance it out after a long night. Two of the top 30 most frequently used emojis were related to rent, another to utilities, and three to various car expenses.

When reviewing words used in the description field of the app, LendEdu Chief Technology Officer Matt Lenhard found that some users were very specific in their payments, using brand names such as "Uber," "Comcast," and "Costco" in their transactions. In fact, the ride-sharing app was the second most frequently used term overall in the app, following "food."

Not all transactions are bland, everyday expenses. "Strippers" and "shots" took spots 91 and 73, respectively, out of 100 terms used.

But these descriptions aren't necessarily the most reliable way to determine what Venmo users were buying, because they often include jokes. Alli Maloney, a 26-year-old freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio, uses jesting emojis when exchanging Venmo payments with her sister. "The emoji use can be something goofy," she explained.

Another user, 30-year-old marketing director Robyn Showers, uses a pineapple emoji with one friend because he once told a woman that she was a "fineapple." "Sometimes with friends I put in a joke description that has more to do with an inside joke than it does with a charge," she said.

Perhaps due to such jokes, there's an inexplicable octopus emoji that shows up as the fifth most frequently used pictogram on Wednesdays. Asked whether the octopus was meant to denote something secretive, or perhaps illicit, a Venmo spokesman said it did not and noted it is often sent in conjunction with other sea-creature emojis.

A potential reason that the cephalopod showed up in LendEdu's study of transactions is because a handful of users may have used it repeatedly, skewing the data. Such was the case with the eggplant emoji, which one user used more than 500 times in a single transaction, thereby making it third in a list of most frequently used emojis in Sunday transactions. The aubergine is a scandalous emoji, meant to evoke a male body part.

It's also important to note that these are all public Venmo transactions, so the payments of users who wish to hide their actions don't appear in the data.

Overall, the findings were in line with the millennial tendencies that David Rathmanner, LendEdu director of content and data analytics, expected to see. The most surprising thing was how frequently the emoji for rent popped up, he said. While Venmo doesn't reveal the average payment size in their app, the company did say that rent emojis are linked to the highest-priced transactions. Per their data, rent is the seventh most commonly used emoji.

"Millennials really seem to trust the security of the app, if they're willing to use it for things like rent," Mr. Rathmanner said.

-- Bloomberg News

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