One thing I've learned from talking to Gen Y consumers that seems to be present across the board in this generation's psyche is a fear of looking stupid.
This generation's parents have held them up as deities and, as a result, they don't feel that they are “allowed” to make mistakes.
For a retailer -- online or offline -- this manifests itself in a few types of Gen Y customers.
1. The Researcher This customer comes into a retail shop with smartphone or tablet in hand, knowing exactly what they want and exactly how much they want to pay for it. This is their way of combating a knowledge gap that they perceive exist between themselves and a sales person, who is often on commission. The sales person has knowledge of what they want to sell and why, because they may have a financial benefit to sell one product over another that they don’t disclose for obvious reasons.
Gen Y doesn't like to be “sold” things by an incentivized sales person who doesn’t have their best interests in mind. Some in this generation will go to extreme lengths to make sure they are getting a fair deal.
2. The Avoider The Researcher may be tough for your sales people to deal with, but The Avoider is the one you really have to worry about if your retail operation only exists in a brick-and-mortar space. This Gen Y consumer won't even visit your store because of a fear of looking stupid and being on the losing end of a battle with your sales staff.
While retailers may think positioning themselves as experts is a good thing, it only works for Gen Y if they have the same access to the same information that your sales staff has. There can’t be any hidden fees or an agenda to switch sell customers to a similar product by another brand because the commission is higher.
What retailers need to do is level the playing field.
This could mean having products and information on display and allowing consumers to freely walk through the store gathering information for themselves.
It could mean an in-store "diagnostic" asking consumers a few simple questions to guide them in the right direction and, in turn, you provide a bespoke experience tailored to their needs -- another thing Gen Y consumers love.
After I've spent 10 minutes playing with an iPad, there is really very little an Apple salesperson can tell me about the product that would sway me one way or the other, other than price. I know the iPad is fast and easy to use, I know how a few of the apps work and I've spent some time browsing one of my favorite websites.
If you don't have a physical product that can be tested, start by asking them the right questions. Don't get into how much they are looking to spend. First ask about their needs and wants.
Identify a few key factors unique to your retail experience to discuss with customers and that should help your salespeople deliver the customer a better, more customized experience. This should also help your staff convert at a much higher rate because they have the right information to properly help the customer.
High pressure and low knowledge won't work for Gen Y. Work to provide an inviting retail experience that allows customers to discover what they love about your product, not how quickly you can get into their wallets.