Connecting with millennials at retail

BY Nicky Jackson
When it comes to retail, millennials have a lot going for them. They represent 92 million U.S. consumers in their prime spending years. They are the first truly digital generation. They have high disposable incomes, and control more than $600 billion in annual purchasing power. By 2020, millennial spending in the United States is projected to balloon to $1.4 trillion annually and will represent 30% of total retail sales. These shoppers are tech savvy, plugged in and well-informed — and demanding.
Given their size and buying power, millennials are forcing the retail industry to rapidly adapt to a new way of meeting consumer wants and needs, and changing the retail landscape at a rate that is faster than many retailers anticipate. In the coming years, these changes will cause challenges for those retailers who aren’t catering to this influential cohort. Here are a few ways retailers can keep this audience engaged.
Create a connection
Catering to a millennial shopper means having the brands and products they want and need — products that speak to them and that they can connect with. For brands, this means keeping up to date with fast-changing trends and speaking to these customers in a way they want to be spoken to. As digital natives, millennials learn the latest trends via social media influencers and their peers, and these trends can turn on a dime. This can be a problem for big brands that can’t innovate or adapt to continually evolving trends as quickly as smaller, more nimble brands.
Millennials also prefer brands that have a story behind them — who they are, what they stand for, the origins of their company — and value transparency in all aspects of their business, from their ingredients and how they’re sourced to how the company performs as an upstanding corporate citizen. Mush Foods and Honey Nail Glam are two brands that have successfully leveraged their stories to develop and grow their millennial shopper base. Retailers that highlight brand stories also will resonate with millennial shoppers.
Focus on the experience
While they may be digital natives who begin their shopper journey online, millennials often finish their purchasing in store. And when it comes to the store, it’s all about the experience.
Millennials want to touch, smell and taste products. In fact, when it comes to the drug channel, 91% of millennial shoppers prefer shopping in store than online. Retailers focused on delivering an incredible in-store experience are winning with these shoppers. And that in-store experience can include so many attributes, from the shopping environment and atmosphere to experiential shopping — makeup retailer Sephora, for example, has elevated the in-store experience offering in-store makeup classes — to ensuring the right product mix at the right price. Millennial shoppers love the discovery aspect of being in a store and will spend time finding the right product, rather than make a purchase for purchasing’s sake. Having a choice of products that speak to them in a meaningful way and information at the point of purchase is key to realizing in-store purchase success for this shopper.
Develop personalized offers
What’s more, millennial shoppers lean heavily into loyalty campaigns and value such offers as coupons, provided they are targeted and personalized. In fact, more than 95% of millennials say they want their brands to court them actively through promotions and deals via text and email. Even print and direct mail are viable channels to reach these shoppers, as long as they feel that these offers are tailored to their specific needs
Embrace technology
To meet the demands for the seamless and personalized experience that resonates with millennials — and to keep up with trends as quickly as they are revealed — retailers need to team up with outside technology, data, analytics and process partners. Albertsons is a great example of this. Earlier this year, the company enhanced its e-commerce capabilities by introducing same-day delivery via its Instacart partnership, as well as Drive-Up & Go, and addressed the increased demand for meal solutions with the acquisition of meal-kit company Plated.
Successfully reaching and connecting with the millennial generation isn’t as daunting as it may seem, if you remember this: Listen to them, and meet them where they are. That’s online as much as it’s in store, and they’re more than willing to provide their thoughts and opinion. Being able to adapt and deliver on the needs and wants of the millennial consumer isn’t just nice to do — it’s a must in today’s retail world.
Nicky Jackson is founder and CEO of RangeMe, recently acquired by ECRM. Before launching RangeMe, she worked as a marketing executive at Kellogg’s, Uncle Toby’s, Goodman Fielder, PepsiCo and Jim Beam. She currently resides in San Francisco with her family of four.

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