Millennials, also referred to as Generation Y, are the group of people born between 1980 and 2000. Ranging in age from 12-33, this generation is viewed by society as the generation of slackers. It has become essential for retailers to change their business strategy in order to appeal to this generation, who in the United States alone spend approximately $600 billion per year.
Before I begin let me give you some background information about myself: I'm a millennial. I'm female in my young-20s, about to enter my final year of university. After I graduate I'll have to deal with the insane amount of debt I've acquired in the past few years, despite immense assistance from my parents. When I'm not at school I live with my parents and for the time being, I'm financially dependent on them. None of this has stopped me from shopping online regularly.
Countless news sources and op-eds have used words like â€˜entitled' or â€˜narcissistic' or â€˜lazy' to describe my generation. Our spending habits are constantly described as not being comparable to our financial realities. Think about it this way though: it's becoming increasingly necessary to attain a college degree in order to get a "good" job, and the amount of students finishing both high school and university are is on the rise. Despite protests by many (here's looking at you, Occupy Wall Street), the cost of education continues to rise as well. 94 percent of students currently graduate in debt. It's a catch-22, in order to make money we have to spend a ridiculous sum. Despite this debt, we're still buying.
It's important to identify that online shopping is nothing new to millennials; it's a norm for us. We're definitely a generation that feels comfortable taking advantage of the affordance. That alone is something that distinguishes my generation from previous generations of shoppers (who are also becoming increasingly comfortable with home delivery). We're finally approaching a point where many of us are earning our own money and are not hesitating to spend it.
From the point of view of a millennial shopper, here are four things I wish retailers would remember when selling to my generation:
1) A rise in online shopping will not make brick-and-mortar shopping null and void. Going to the mall or to a local department store will still be a regular activity, especially for products that we don't want to wait a week or more for. Shopping, despite becoming a task that can be completed alone from the comfort of one's home, is still considered by many to be a social activity. Seriously, I always prefer to shop with a buddy.
2) Omni-channel retail is important. We grew up with this technology. It's second nature to us. Online platforms have made instant gratification an expected result of the shopping experience. Furthermore, we expect to have the same shopping experience no matter what retail channel we're using, whether we're at the store, on our laptop, on our tablet, or on our smart phone. 68 percent of millennials expect a seamless shopping experience regardless of the channel they're using, and a retailer's capacity to provide this will affect our decision of where to make a final purchase.
3) We love social media and feeling connected, but just having us â€˜like' your page isn't enough to make the sale. Our online presence is our way of presenting ourselves to the rest of the world. Affiliating ourselves with your brand is something that's mutually beneficial. You get my eyes and I gain some cultural capital. It the same as when we associate ourselves with certain musical artists, books, movies, and television shows. However, just because we've "liked" your page doesn't mean that we're going to look at it again for no reason! Offer incentives to "fans" of your page. Use your social media presence to offer giveaways/contests to keep us coming back. Interact with us. Get us talking about you. The best way to remind us about your brand is to have us hear about you again from one of our peers. When companies interact with their consumers (replying to tweets, Facebook comments, etc) it gives them a personalized experience. Maybe society's right. Maybe we are narcissistic. I disagree. I think we just like to know that you value us as customers and don't consider us to be just another sale.
4) The economy is not in great shape, but we're still buying. We are entering the job market while it's in the worst shape that it's been in pretty much since the Great Depression. We didn't ruin the economy; we came late to the party and now are left to clean up the mess. Despite this we are still buying. However because of this we are more inclined look for deals and participate in activities like showrooming because it's how we can ensure we are getting the most bang for our buck.
Society treats Generation Y like children who are naÃ¯ve and shopping blindly with money they don't have, but news flash: a portion of us actually still are children. Those who aren't are young adults coping with the debt of their education while they look for jobs, or adults first starting their families and dealing with costs there. Despite all of these factors we are still spending.
As the last generation of the 20th Century, and the first truly digital generation, we grew up blessed with many technological affordances. While we've grown to expect instant gratification and personally tailored shopping experiences, this does not mean we are lazy or entitled. In defense of millennial shoppers, while we may need to be targeted differently than previous generations this does not make us narcissistic, it's the result of the affordances we were lucky enough to grow up with and should not be held against us.
<Image: Birmingham City University – flickr>
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