It’s hard to go a day without reading an article about the brands and industries millennials are killing off. From napkins to cereals to banks, the lineup of sectors that these 20- and 30-somethings are rethinking seems endless. It’s enough to make marketers think that brand loyalty among millennials is dead. However, the opposite is true. Millennials are actually the most loyal generation of buyers, with more than 50 percent reporting that they're extremely or quite loyal to their favorite brands. Furthermore, 64 percent in this age group rate themselves as more loyal to a brand than their parents’ generation.
As a retailer, if your strategy doesn’t already tilt toward millennials, the train may have already left the station for your long-term success. Millennials and the rising influence of Gen Z should already be fully baked into your strategy. This most-powerful buying demographic spends more than $65 billion each year and influences upward of $1 trillion in total consumer spending.
Millennials and Gen Z are big on feedback, offering it on review sites and through social media whenever they have a meaningful brand experience. The key to creating brand advocates from this lucrative demographic is parsing through these data streams to gain insights. There are three key practices that can help retailers leverage their own customer data and insights to understand how millennials buy, build relationships that create brand advocates, and drive successful outcomes.
1. Commit to innovative customer experiences.
Walk into an Apple store and what do you see? A sea of young, energetic workers ready to engage and help their customers. Someone is always available to answer a question, and the retailer has gotten rid of the most annoying part of shopping — waiting in long checkout lines. In fact, anyone with an Apple Store app can check themselves out and walk out of the store completely in control of their purchase.
Millennials look for a mix of independence and quality human interaction, and this approach delivers both. Creating an innovative customer experience relies, in many ways, on a company’s willingness to experiment. Retailers should look through as much customer data as possible to see where their pain points are and determine if they can be assuaged by tools that empower younger buyers to own more of the customer experience.
2. Provide peer-to-peer employee feedback.
There’s a lot of research out there stating that millennials crave feedback in the office. For retail employees, this feedback should come not just from management, but from customers. This feedback loop helps to foster an authentic connection between the brand and its customers.
To maximize feedback from millennials in a retail setting, companies should capture data coming from their customers and connect it back to their employees immediately for self-coaching. In addition, this data can be valuable during employee reviews as a part of development plans and recognition. That way a clear message is sent to both customers and employees that their input is valuable enough to share and makes a difference.
3. Create communities and human interactions.
A Harris Group study reveals that 72 percent of millennials would rather spend money on experiences than material goods. Knowing that millennials thrive on experiences, retailers must deliver something more than just a product purchase transaction — even if it is well executed. A retailer has two communities: the local store and the distributed brand. Create communities by evolving offerings and experiences that both drive consumers to the store and elevate them to crave the brand.
Makeup retailer Sephora continues to innovate on this front by doubling down on in-store services that not only make its Beauty Insider loyalty members eager to visit its stores, but create raving fans of the brand. Sephora's concept store in Boston captures the essence of a personalized human experience that brings back fond memories of the neighborhood salon.
Creating an in-store community produces energy that's infectious and even addictive — quite positive for bringing in valuable foot traffic. Whether it’s a smoky eye at Sephora, climbing a rock wall at Dick’s Sporting Goods, or sipping a latte in Nordstrom’s cafe, successful retailers are curating experiences memorable enough to be Instagram-worthy and helping spread the message in communities far and wide. This is critical, as we know 56 percent of young buyers make purchases based on recommendations from friends or family.
Russ Haswell is vice president and general manager of retail at Medallia, a provider of a software-as-a-service platform designed to improve customer experiences.
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