Settle for the Old Tricks At Your Peril

Despite all of the headlines about millennials “abandoning” brick and mortar, the reality is that members of Gen Y simply demand different things from the physical retail experience. Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history, and a lot of the marketing methods that may have worked with their predecessors–such as glamorous celebrity endorsements, single-channel marketing initiatives, or trying to use popular slang–will scare most millennials right out of your store. But this doesn’t mean that you should just throw in the towel by sticking to dated sales tactics

It is possible to win the loyalty of millennial shoppers, but brands won’t achieve this by treating them like Gen X, or teenagers, for that matter. Authenticity reigns with Generation Y and, as retailers begin to scale their business, analytics can enable them to offer customization at scale. That said, let’s take a look at some of the things you may currently be doing that turn off millennial customers, as well as how to replace them with modern marketing techniques that work.

Playing it safe isn’t safe anymore

Millennials are a trendsetting generation. Forbes reports, “What millennials, the first digitally native generation, are looking for from your business today foreshadows what their parents, uncles, aunts, and older sibling will want from you tomorrow.”

As trendsetters, millennials tend to gravitate towards brands that take risks, so disruption is the name of the game when it comes to reaching them. Retailers that break the mold by finding new ways to make life more convenient, market their products, or interface with customers, are uniquely positioned to win millennial market share. Just take a look at the rise of subscription services across every branch of retail. Quarterly subscription boxes like FabFitFun give millennials that “wow” discovery factor, letting them experiment with $300 to $400 worth of products for $50 a box, as well as access to member-only sales and an online community of like-minded subscribers.

FabFitFun began as digital magazine and the team is no stranger to the power of targeted analytics. In fact, FabFitFun co-founder, Katie Rosen Kitchens, attributes the bulk of the brands success to an ability to offer personalization at scale. “Although many people would also attribute influencer marketing to our success, we have found that our subscribers have become the ‘influencers’ within their communities,” Kitchens tells Forbes. “The personalization that the box now has, offers something for everyone from a teenager to a grandmother. “

By gaining a data-based understanding of the market, retailers can narrow in on new concepts to surprise and delight millennial consumers. Retailers such as Camp in New York City have made a name for themselves by rolling out creative retail concepts that inspire customers to think about the shopping experience in a new way. Camp is a toy store designed like a summer camp: customers enter through a secret door, there’s a bunk bed that doubles as a slide, a room with sequin-covered walls and a dance floor, and enough in-store events and live theatre to keep even the most hyperactive young customer highly-entertained. The concept, which was built by BuzzFeed’s Chief of Commerce and sponsored by MasterCard, has set a new standard for innovative thinking in the toy category–– and it’s only a matter of time before retailers in other categories begin to follow suit.

On the other end of the spectrum, when retailers that are late to the game with data-based initiatives, it can feel less authentic when they finally implement new concepts in-store—and if you haven’t heard, being perceived as authentic is everything when it comes to reaching millennial consumers. In this market, bureaucratic red tape is the kiss of death, so companies need to remain agile enough to quickly respond to data that indicates shifts in industry and cultural trends before they happen, and before millennial consumers begin to perceive them as late on the uptake.

Millennials (sort of) want to be treated like grown-ups

Millennials aren’t teenagers anymore, and understanding this is essential in order to market to each customer successfully. While the youngest millennials are only 22 years old, the oldest millennials are about 38. So they’re the parents taking their young children to toy stores like Camp. And instead of gearing up to head off to college (like Gen Z is currently), most millennials are concerned with dropping their kids off at band practice on time or getting approved for a home loan despite buckets of student loan debt.

It can be off-putting when brands try to sell to millennials by overloading on emojis or slang that’s only relevant with adolescents. And as more millennials become parents, many will grapple with constructing a new identity that encompasses both their role as a parent and their role as a trendsetter. The millennial generation encompasses a broad range of consumer lifestyles, so retailers need an idea of who they’re trying to target and how that customer likes to shop before investing in outreach.

Millennial parents, for instance, are highly digital and cost-conscious consumers who use their smartphones in-store to check product reviews, compare prices, and search for coupons and deals. Younger millennials, on the other hand, are more influenced by social media than their older cohorts. However, recommendations to target both segments can be powered by AI, if the retailer’s data is handled correctly.

There are some commonalities in shopping behavior shared among millennial consumers. As a whole, they are attracted to a more casual, authentic shopping environment than their predecessors. This means that the stuffy luxury retail showrooms of yore simply don’t fit into the new shopping paradigm. Even the most seasoned luxury retailers, such as the fine jewelry powerhouse, Bulgari,are taking a more experiential, casual approach to retailing for a test drive in an attempt to attract and convert millennial consumers.

Vogue Business reports, “Bulgari’s New Curiosity Shop in Rome was designed to attract clients who might have felt ‘intimidated by the luxury’ of flagships… The solution to this translates into more casual dress for staff, new forms of retail technology and pop-up stores that tap into FOMO.”

Authenticity comes from knowing your audience

Let’s face it: modern consumers can’t relate to product endorsements by glamorous celebrities and, frankly, they just feel stale and boring. And when retailers try to use jargon that they think millennials want to hear it just comes across as inauthentic and infantilizing. Millennials are spearheading a new retail environment, where the ability to surprise and delight is essential to a retailer’s ability to compete. And a retailer’s ability to delight each unique customer is founded in a data-based understanding of each customer’s lifestyle and path-to-purchase.

Nowadays retailers need to know what their customer wants in terms of product or experience before their customer knows it themselves. Business analytics can help retailers meet these expectations, fueling creativity by sourcing fresh ideas to create a shopping experience catered to each consumer. An analytics-driven approach to trend-sourcing can grant retailers a better understanding of how industry trends intertwine with their customers’ unique shopping history to identify what exact approach will work.

This data gathering occurs in-store through monitoring customer traffic patterns, display assortments, and interactions with store associates; and is then merged with digital behavior to form a full picture of a customer’s path-to-purchase. By doing this retailers can be the first to act on trends that are still in the inception process for other businesses. Therein granting them the power to create an authentic, personalized connection with each shopper… at scale.