7 things to know about millennials’ impact on retail.

Full disclosure, right off the bat: I’m a millennial, and I don’t always like being classified as one.

It basically comes down to my dislike for how we’re characterized. There are definitely parts of the stereotype that I’m cool with, like goal-oriented (I love to think so), confident (yep, that sounds good), and tech-savvy (add that to the wish list!). But what I’m really not crazy about, and where I’d like everyone to remember that no two millennials may be the same, is when we talk about some of the undesirable characteristics. Qualities like self-absorbed, arrogant, unable to disconnect from technology, greedy, wasteful and peer dependent are all traits I like to reply with, “Wait a minute, I’m not like that!” (Is it arrogant to deny being arrogant? #lifequestions)

Personal feelings aside, let’s get to why I’m writing this. The reality is, millennials are responsible for some big paradigm shifts, with no exception given to the retail industry. From how we shop, to where we’re shopping, the type of store environment we want/if we want one at all, what we’re willing to pay more money for, etc., this generation is shaking things up. Or at least everyone thinks we are.

Maybe you’ve already read your share of articles explaining why millennials are raising such a ruckus, and I’m with you – can’t we talk about something else? Not yet … as tired of the topic we both may be, retailers are taking cues from this generation and transforming the way they do business. So, refill your coffee and get comfortable. Here’s how millennials are affecting retail, from the viewpoint of a millennial.

  1. We’re still shopping in store. All those arguing that only an apocalypse could kill the value of brick and mortar shopping are correct. As much as we millennials love our online shopping (we spend more money online than any other generation, according to a 2015 Cushman & Wakefield study), more than 90% of all sales still take place in the physical marketplace. All the more reason that the “wow” factors in the physical retail space are unquestionably necessary.
  1. We research. The millennial generation has been endorsed with impulsive purchasing habits, but au contraire, we’re actually methodical in how we spend money. When it comes to e-commerce, we write and read reviews, compare product specifications and price, and evaluate sellers based on their order fulfillment. In store, we “showroom” and check out items in person to touch merchandise and experience products before buying. That all said, just because we like to see things in person doesn’t mean we prefer buying them there; a lot of times, we’re visiting stores to ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ our choice, then going home and searching for the lowest price before buying.

Image via mashable.com.

  1. We want to feel special. People like to categorize millennials as self-absorbed, and although I don’t relish the idea of falling under that classification, we do want experiences that feel like they’re created for us. This doesn’t always translate into personal shoppers, or our arrival being announced in the headset of every store employee. Stores with thousands of SKU numbers and less than 4 feet of space between racks are not appealing. We’re all about the store environments that feel localized and make a more selective amount of merchandise feel part of the design. Product is still important, but what keeps us coming back to the store environment is the whole experience. Modern lines, monochromatic color palettes and materials, minimalistic merchandise displays, smart incorporation of technology, and branding that’s strategic are all components of the physical store design that millennials generally favor.
  1. If we like something, we’ll promote it. Social media has heightened how effective user-generated content is. Millennials love to share and overshare, and when it comes to the things we buy, social media platforms become a tool for us to act as self-appointed brand ambassadors. We’re less influenced by advertising, and more influenced when our friends tell us about a brand they love and buy in to. If you make us feel part of something awesome, and succeed in attracting and keeping our attention (and our dollars), we’ll tell anyone that follows us on Twitter about what they’re missing out on. (Note: this all holds fast for negative experiences, perhaps even more so than positive … misery loves company.)

… I wasn’t joking. These are snapshots sharing brands I love from my personal Instagram within the past year. 

  1. We want to support companies doing good. There’s a reason brands like Warby Parker, ZADY, Everlane and TOMS were able to make a name for themselves quickly. Tying in our affinity for research and knowing the brands we buy from, millennials make it a point to know about companies they support beyond the products they sell. In a retail market that feels saturated and overwhelming, a way for retailers to differentiate themselves is by employing responsible practices across all areas of their business – how they treat their employees, how they source and manufacture their products, the environmental impact of their business, etc. Forbes reported that more than 30% of millennials have stopped buying from companies with questionable or unacceptable social practices, and says that, “If you don’t stand for something, they will make it up for you.” Give us a legit cause to believe in, and you’ll have yourself a loyal consumer that will try to get their posse on board.

Image via toms.com. 

  1. The omnichannel experience has to be seamless. Retailers have the momentous challenge of syncing the in-store experience with their e-commerce and mobile platforms. The millennial generation is not one known for being patient, so the pressure is on…between shopping in the physical space, ordering online for in-store pickup, or using a computer, tablet or phones to purchase, the total brand experience must be connected. Brand colors and language, presentation of the merchandise, and how the aesthetic of store environments translate online are critical considerations when creating a seamless consumer experience. The most successful retailers are those that create and recreate their brand across these platforms for a curated, fully-integrated experience.

Graphic via forbes.com.

  1. We still like interacting with humans. As much as everyone likes to think millennials are so ingrained in technology that we can only communicate through Snapchat, you can’t and shouldn’t think you need to replace face-to-face interaction. King Retail Solutions reported in their Winter 2015 Consumer Survey that, across all their demographics surveyed (men/women, millennials/Gen X/Baby Boomers, people with and without kids, rural/urban/suburban dwellers, etc.), people still prefer to be assisted by sales associates while shopping in store. Despite being the first generation to have technology at our fingertips since birth, we’re still social creatures. In the realm of retail, the immersive omnichannel brand experience that covers both the physical and digital commerce environment is critical. But, at the end of the day, we’ll take knowledgeable and helpful sales staff over an app, automated customer service or stand-alone kiosk every time.

Why does all this matter? Well, it’s what retail has been experiencing for some time, and what it will perpetually need to keep navigating through … and fast. If I had to summarize the challenge millennials bring, it’s that attention is low, and expectations are extremely high, regardless of the medium. The physical store and online presence have to be one, while still being separate. There must be advantages unique to both, without being completely different experiences.

If you think we’re tricky, we’ve got nothing on the next generation. Millennials may have been born with lots of technology, but we’ve also grown alongside a lot of it; Generation Z or “iGen” hasn’t known anything different. Attention and brand loyalty will be even scarcer commodities that retailers will have to shell out bigger bucks for. Across the board, from digital commerce to the physical store environment, that wow factor that keeps people coming back is only going to get more complex and innovative.

Cushman & Wakefield | Forbes | Pew Research Center | Entrepreneur | Goldman Sachs | Accenture | Aabaco Small Business | Kimco Realty | Retail Customer Experience | Steven Dennis

About Ashley:
Ashley is part of BRR’s marketing team, and readily admits she didn’t know how much she cared about architecture until she started working in it.