Commentary

Who Am I? Knowing Your Shoppers Is Critical

The Rolling Stones are 50 -- not the members of the band, but the band itself. Frontman Mick Jagger will be 70 next July, so he’s a bona fide senior citizen. It may be true that the Boomer generation is getting older, but they have not gone quietly into that good night.

Nevertheless, the reins of power are in the process of passing from Boomers to Millennials right now. The youngest Millennials are still teenagers, but each passing year brings another group into the cold light of consumer adulthood. Not that they're any slouches as consumers already. Having been raised in a webbed world, with anytime accessibility and choices that match my profile, this generational cohort is already changing the game at retail.

Millennials know they are in charge when it comes to shopping. They are comfortable making mobile purchases, and look to friends and peer groups for ratings before buying just about anything. Mr. Whipple has definitely left the building.

Online shopping continues to grow with double-digit ferocity every year, driven in no small part by Millennials. And while they aren’t exclusive to online -- indeed they are quite brand-fickle overall -- they do expect to see some of the online shopping experience delivered by brick-and-mortar retailers.

For retailers, it's possible that the only way to fully deliver on these expectations is by operating like an online store: gather information, mine it and use the insights to provide more relevant offers to shoppers. That’s a lofty goal that will require a fully deployed loyalty program as well as the time, investment and expertise to deliver. In the meantime, there are some things retailers can do today to make their stores more “Millennial-friendly.”

  1. Pay close attention to Millennial shoppers as they develop in terms of loyalty and rituals. This growth will happen in ways that are unexpected in many cases, and the best strategy is to be open to those changes, and willing to respond accordingly. For example, Millennials are currently very value-conscious, but as the economy improves and they move into higher-paying jobs, this behavior may change.
  2. Combine mobile media with other external media elements. Integrate all the various touchpoints while ensuring they are relevant. Millennials will check price, but the decision will also consider things like convenience and other value-adds. Focus on making an emotional connection via all media elements, including the store itself. Don’t discourage showrooming; there’s a lot to be said for having a shopper in your store. Make the sale now.
  3. Partner with CPGs on packaging and product. Green, sustainable and out of the ordinary pay big dividends here. Take a look at store brands and make sure they reflect this direction as well; that will help to set the tone for the store overall. Think outside the box (and the can), and provide innovative packaging that stands out and provides unique benefits -- especially those that are earth-friendly.
  4. Connect with the neighborhood. Single-footprint, cookie-cutter stores won’t make it in the world of customized offers. While you can’t offer a different product selection to every shopper, you can make the store feel local through décor and product selection --  this is a critical point with Millennials.
  5. Hire believers and make them available. One of the biggest reasons for the success of the Apple stores is the people who work there: they are both passionate and knowledgeable about the products they sell. Find and hire people who are passionate about what you sell, and keep them out with shoppers.

These are simple steps, but they can’t be properly executed without a change in thinking from all areas. The past 30 years have seen brick-and-mortar retail focus almost exclusively on cutting costs: reducing labor, eliminating SKUs and inventory, and focusing development on the supply chain. The outcome has been efficient stores that have no personality, and still can’t beat online for price.

The pendulum may finally be swinging back toward better service, knowledgeable employees and a pleasant -- even gratifying -- shopping experience. The beauty of making these changes now is that they are effective for all generations.

 

 

 

 

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