Some in the retail industry believe that millennials have contributed to the decline of brick-and-mortar stores. These young digital natives are constantly tethered to devices and buy products online at the expense of physical stores, or so goes popular belief.
That’s a myth, according to our recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers. We found millennials in fact visit brick-and-mortar retailers far more frequently than baby boomers and Gen Xers.
More than half (56 percent) of millennials shop at least once a week in stores, and that’s not including convenience or grocery stores. In contrast, just 27 percent of baby boomers and 44 percent of Gen Xers shop in stores weekly. Asked why they like shopping in stores, millennials told us:
- “I don’t have to wait for products to be delivered” (63 percent)
- “I like to see, hold and try on products before I buy” (59 percent)
- “I enjoy browsing stores” (57 percent)
- “I can seek advice from store associates” (41 percent)
Our survey revealed another key distinction between age groups. The largest slice of millennials said that they “usually shop because it's fun, even if I don’t buy anything.” In contrast, the largest groups of baby boomers and Gen Xers replied that they “usually shop only when I need to.”
For retailers courting the millennial market, the challenge is to create a fun experience from end to end, starting with targeted social media and email marketing to mobile-optimized physical stores with comprehensive inventory and knowledgeable associates.
Tune Up Social Media for Millennials
Sixty percent of millennials view social media as an important source for new product information, significantly more than baby boomers (25 percent) or Gen Xers (45 percent). A strong social media strategy is essential, but it’s no longer enough to treat social as a single channel.
Retailers need to differentiate among Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms to determine which works best by type of consumer and product. Millennials tend to use Facebook for sharing a new purchase, so incentivizing a share with a discount or contest entry pays off. Then, target recipients of that share with a Facebook campaign.
Pinterest, meanwhile, is more of an aspirational tool for long-consideration purchases such as home furnishings. Be sure your Pinterest images include a mouseover URL so that pinners and their followers can easily access your item. Dive into your web analytics to size up what millennials and other shoppers are telling you.
Millennials Use Email — Really!
You might expect that with social media and text messaging, millennials regard email as a tool from yesteryear. In fact, the opposite is true. Our survey found that 50 percent of millennials rely on emails for product information and suggestions, significantly more than baby boomers (33 percent) and Gen Xers (38 percent).
Millennials appreciate personalized emails that suggest products based on their purchase and browsing history. It’s simple, effective and sidesteps the information overload of a search on a retail website or Google. Personalized emails are a great way to curate your product lineup and meet millennial expectations that retailers recognize their interests and anticipate their needs.
You can’t fully capitalize on the email opportunity with an outdated or entry-level email marketing solution, however. Brands realize the best results with modern solutions, including capabilities such as personalized recommendations, advanced segmentation, commerce data and social media integration, predictive analytics, and more.
Embrace Mobile-Loving Millennials
Retailers that spot a millennial using a smartphone often fear that they're price checking or “showrooming.” That may be true, but they also may be sharing an image or texting with a friend about a potential purchase. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of millennials expect retailers to offer more mobile technologies. It’s time to start embracing the mobile millennial.
For instance, “Free Wi-Fi” signs welcome the mobile-loving millennial. A single router up front may not cover a sizable store, so apparel retailers should be sure to have a strong signal in rear changing rooms for the shopper who wants to show off a dress on video chat. For those shoppers needing assistance, a sign like “Need Help? Text 55512 for a Store Associate” contributes to a great in-store experience.
A mobile-friendly store should be for shoppers, not store associates on duty. An associate seen using a phone can appear distracted and not approachable by any consumer, from millennial to baby boomer.
Optimize the In-Store Experience
Retailers have long strived to create an upbeat environment, but a fresh look at in-store offerings may be in order. Promotions and discounts are always fun; 79 percent of millennials said special offers are important to the in-store experience. Emailing discount coupons for in-store purchases helps address that desire and drives foot traffic.
Web kiosks at which shoppers can browse information on a full-size screen is another way to optimize the store experience. Smart product placement appeals to the millennial propensity for impulse purchases. Consider that 48 percent of millennials said they make a non-grocery purchase on the spot, without research, most or all of the time. That’s a lot more than baby boomers (28 percent) and Gen Xers (30 percent).
Asked what’s important in-store, 88 percent of millennials cited easy checkout, followed by availability of products/inventory (85 percent). While you can’t keep every item in stock all the time, you can ensure that sales associates are equipped to “save the sale” with mobile devices to look up product availability at other locations or arrange a ship-to-store transaction for later pickup.
As our survey finds, rumors of the millennial role in the decline of brick-and-mortar retail are greatly exaggerated. Retailers will benefit from fresh strategies to entice and delight the highly coveted millennial market.
Greg Zakowicz is the senior commerce marketing analyst for Oracle Bronto.
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