Millennials, Generation Y, Echo Boomers, the Demand Generation — call them what you want, but this key group of over 75 million U.S. consumers is undoubtedly changing today’s shopping scene. Brands have been forced to evolve their omnichannel strategies as well as tailor their offerings and merchandising to millennials, since this demographic now has over $200 million in annual buying power. Many millennials grew up with mobile devices and laptops in hand, making digital a critical channel for reaching this audience.
As the retail landscape shifts from shopping malls to smartphones, so have millennials’ shopping preferences, especially when it comes to purchasing their favorite brands. The Astound Commerce 2017 Global Brand Shopper Survey revealed that 39 percent of millennials prefer to shop directly on the brand manufacturer’s website rather than with retailers that sell multiple brands.
We surveyed 1,000 consumers who shop online and have visited a brand manufacturer’s website in the past month to uncover changing consumer expectations for brands and their evolution in the retail space. The study revealed the biggest millennial demands when shopping with brands both online and in-store.
1. Brand Experience and Excitement is Crucial
When shopping with brands, millennials want immersive and interactive experiences. In fact, 45 percent expect more engaging experiences with brands than with retailers. As e-commerce and technological capabilities grow, brands are offering more unique services that retailers just can’t compete with, such as NIKEiD and Apple’s Genius Bar. Since millennials grew up with these innovations, they’ve come to expect unique experiences from every brand they shop with.
Millennials need these experiences to bring the brand and product features to life. Thirty-six percent of millennials expect interactive tools from brands that help them select the right product, and 34 percent expect strong visual content (e.g., better product photography). These capabilities help millennials envision the products online before buying, often saving them a trip to the store.
Millennial preferences here are clear: They don’t just want to buy, they want to interact and engage with products and brands on an authentic and personal level.
2. Social Media is a Key Millennial Purchase Driver
Millennials have seamlessly integrated social media into their lives, which has changed their demands for instant gratification as well as their methods for product research. They’ve moved away from using traditional search engines for product research and now are directed to shop from their social feeds. Sixty-four percent of millennial shoppers are prompted to visit brand websites via social media advertisements.
Two-thirds of millennials follow at least three brands on social media, so advertisements and promotions on these channels present a big opportunity to drive consumers to websites to research, explore and purchase. Not only do millennials follow these brands, but 37 percent of them engage via “likes” and comments on their social profiles daily. Brands would be wise to make personal connections with their millennial followers by interacting with their content consistently and posting relevant photos and videos.
3. Next-Gen Tech is a Value Add
While millennials will always value brand shopping experiences above all, they're intrigued by the integration of next-gen features both online and in-store. Virtual reality technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) not only add value to the entire shopping experience, but help millennials gain a better understanding of how products work and fit into their lives.
Sixty-nine percent of millennials find VR capabilities important to help bring images, product labels or in-store experiences to life. Brands like Lowe's and Vera Bradley have experimented with VR technology in-store, challenging the traditional showroom model and helping customers experience products in new and unique ways.
Additionally, 36 percent of millennial shoppers find virtual try-on tools for apparel and accessories crucial for the e-commerce experience. AI technologies are important for brands to deliver personalized chat and customer service in the physical store.
Understanding millennial shopping preferences is key for brands trying to keep up with this dynamic and unique consumer group. As this demographic ages and grows in wallet share, brands will be forced to reinvent their omnichannel offerings and forge strong connections in order to retain millennial customers.
Lauren Freedman is the senior vice president of digital strategy and chief merchant of Astound Commerce, a global digital commerce agency.