The death of brick & mortar is far from imminent. Since the collapse of some of the older retail names, many of which have floundered for years, there is a resurgence toward innovation. This includes new ways to engage with audiences and understand the changing consumer dynamics that are determining the way they shop.

The story of the millennial, as written in The Drum (042618) by Apostles Lambrianides, is familiar. Born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, they are digital natives who have grown up and natured with mobile technology and as such expect to be able to use it in every aspect of the life. Constantly on a variety of social media platforms to document their every move, and updating their profiles to project how they’d like to be seen by the world, the convenience of he mobile device is paramount to this group. And unsurprisingly, the millennial population is more likely to start and end their journey on their smartphones than any other age group, who have started turning their mobile device into a handheld wallet.

Per Greg Sterling writing in MarketingLand (042618), ‘The bar is getting higher for retailers and most of them won’t clear it.’ Much of that is due to the lack of understanding many brands/retailers have with the audience that is out there today. ‘Some 40% of millennials use Facebook to connect to brands, followed by email, websites, Instagram and Twitter, per Euclid. Millennials are less receptive to retail ads than baby boomers or Generation X, but are more receptive to email marketing and “twice as likely to say that interaction with knowledgeable sales staff influences their purchasing decisions,” the report states. The new Euclid report, based on a survey of 1,500 US consumers in March, is called “The Store of the Past Meets The Shopper of the Future.”

Overall, millennials are much more inclined to use technology throughout their purchase journey and have different expectations of retail experiences, including in-store.

Millennials appear to be less focused on or impressed by basic retail competencies than Boomers and Gen Xers, who emphasized checkout wait times, inventory availability and simple returns as their top priorities for retailers. Though somewhat ambiguous, the report suggests that these are baseline or “bare minimum” considerations for millennials: Compared to their other generational counterparts, Millennials don’t put a reasonable checkout time at the top of retail must-haves; just 34% indicated this was a focus for them, as compared to 59% of Baby Boomers and 42% of Gen Xers. They’re also not overly motivated by a reasonable return and exchange policy; 52% of Boomers named this a top priority versus approximately one-third of Millennials.

Euclid writes that millennials are more social, shopping more often with friends and family, than the other segments. In addition, millennials are more likely than the other groups to use multiple channels, including social media, to communicate with brands. And millennials were also much more likely to embrace virtual assistants and smart speakers as future shopping tools and communication channels than Boomers, for example, by a wide margin.

Millennials use of social channels to communicate with brands

Given this emphasis on technology, one might expect millennials would shun interaction with human sales associates. However, the survey found that “they’re more than twice as likely to say that interaction with knowledgeable sales staff influences their purchasing decisions.”

Boomers and Gen Xers were more inclined to respond to advertising or targeted promotions than millennials. But millennials appeared to be more tolerant of email marketing and less likely to unsubscribe at high volumes than the other groups.

The conclusions and recommendations of the report are relatively straightforward — but extremely challenging to execute:

⦿ Recognize and adjust to higher consumer expectations.
⦿ Understand how different customers approach technology, marketing and channels.
⦿ Tailor marketing outreach and in-store experiences accordingly.

Basically, retailers must master “the basics” of the in-store experience, must be able to respond to shoppers/customers through multiple channels and not take a one-size-fits-all approach to promotions and advertising. As a practical matter, only a small percentage of traditional retailers will actually be able to do this.’

So, what can brands/retailers do to survive? One thing is to improve the payment experience through self-checkout kiosks and install advanced digital payment technologies that are essential to keeping the millennial shopper. The relentless focus on perfecting technology has set a new standard across the industry that millennials now accept as the norm. Retailers must be able to provide streamlined, user friendly systems and processes in order to retain the millennial.

Yet perhaps the most important thing brands/retailers can do is to bring personalized retail experience which is key. Whether this is online or in-store, millennials seek customer service professionals who understand their preferences and make recommendations tailored to their specific needs. Millennials want a customer-centric experience in which they feel ‘wanted’ and ‘valued’. In order to do this, retailers need to closely examine what they’re currently doing with customer data, and ensure this information is being utilized to deliver a more personalized in-store experience.

Then there is the power of omni-channel. The omni-channel approach defines the new way in which consumers shop: by using all the options available to them. It could be using a desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, smart TV; they might go direct to a website to research a specific product or arrive through affiliate channels or email; engage through review platforms, apps, etc. Shoppers say that social media has an influence over what they buy with the 25-34 year old crowd say it is 50%. It is essential to understand the multiple methods people use in their path to purchase, as ultimately, the more channels customers use the more valuable they are. A recent Google study found that omni-channel shoppers are 3 times more valuable to a brand, with Macy’s stating it is in fact as high as 6 times.

Gartner predicts, writes Lambrianides’, ‘that by the year 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human and that 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen by 2020. ComScore thinks 50% of all searches will be voice searches by that point. Voice user interfaces (VUI) provide consumers with a more natural and intuitive way of engaging with digital technology. This combines with the growing popularity of connected devices in the home and care, will have a profound impact on how we shop.