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Retail CIOs take note: Millennials own your future

Retail CIOs take note: Millennials own your future

With over $1.4 trillion in millennial spending power by 2020, no retailer can afford to overlook what this generation wants.

Millennials (the generation born from the early 1980s to 2000) now outnumber baby boomers, and the youngest of this cohort is on the cusp of adulthood. It's not surprise, then, that the shopping habits of this digitally-native generation are permanently changing retail at every stage of the shopping journey.      

“Millennials are just entering their prime spending years,” says Tom McGee, president and CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers. “This younger, and even bigger, generation than the baby boomers depends on technology, but is also looking for a personalized and social experience when they shop.”

Since they are digital natives, he explains, millennials are technologically savvy and are using that knowledge to drive their shopping experience. For example, they stay informed and do their research before making purchases. But while they research online, they also enjoy going to a store. “Even when making a purchase online, almost 9 in 10 millennials have gone to a store to pick it up (click-and-collect),” he says. “Typically, when picking up that purchase, they will then purchase other goods in the store, illustrating the synergy between the online and physical environments.”

It’s not that millennials don’t care about price, adds Yory Wurmser, analyst at eMarketer and author of “US Millennial Shoppers 2017: How a Digitally Native Generation is Changing Retail.” Millennials came of age in a time of financial crisis and because of the increased debt they carry, price is certainly a baseline concern.  But, he adds, “They are also strongly accustomed to getting extremely relevant information right away, so they have higher expectations for a solid, seamless shopping experience.”

These are four things millennials want from their shopping journey — and how technology can help retailers provide them:

1. They want personalization in exchange for brand loyalty.

Millennials require and expect a more personalized, customized shopping experience in exchange for their brand loyalty, says Michael Osborne, CEO and president of Smarter HQ. Retailers need to get away from standard ‘batch and blast’ promotions, which will have little to no effect, and use solutions that speak directly to consumers. “Otherwise, it falls on deaf ears for a millennial,” he says. That means using data-driven, mobile-friendly solutions that respond to interactions; intercepting disengaging shoppers before they leave a website; honing in on the right personas; and tailoring messaging to each device.

2. They want to research and purchase on mobile devices.

The youngest millennials are not just digital natives, but also can’t imagine a world without smartphones and tablets and want to use them in every aspect of their lives. Not surprisingly, this generation is more likely to research products or make a purchase via smartphone; in an August 2016 RetailMeNot survey, nearly half of millennials said they intended to shop for deals via their smartphones on Cyber Monday, compared with 36 percent of 35- to 44-year olds. In response, retailers need to have a very clear mobile strategy, says Wurmser: “Retailers need to understand how millennials are using their app and website and what behavior they are looking to encourage — including BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store) — and design from there,” he explains. This is one area where younger millennials are likely to outpace their older cohorts, he adds: “The youngest millennials are much more comfortable doing everything on mobile for all aspects of their shopping.”

3. They want mobile payments to be easy and seamless.                                                          

The comfort level that millennials have with mobile shopping extends to mobile payments made at the point of sale (POS): eMarketer estimates that 18- to 34-year-olds made up 51.2 percent of U.S. proximity mobile payment users in 2016, while its report cited a survey that found that 63 percent of internet users ages 18 to 34 are likely to use a mobile payment method in the near future (including those that aren’t proximity mobile payments). “Two-thirds of millennials don’t have a traditional plastic credit card and they are not following the traditional consumer path as previous generations," says Bobbi Leach, CEO of FuturePay. “They expect their purchase path to be seamless and the user experience to be natural — the payment part of that flow is an important part of that.” Retailers need to think “mobile-first” when it comes to solutions and strategy, she adds, “and really cater to what millennials want.”

4. They want an integrated technology experience in the store.

Millennials want a tailor-made experience that incorporates customer service, which can come through their personal devices as well as technology only found in a store.  According to the ICSC survey, the two most important elements for millennials are the ability to utilize click-and-collect (87 percent) and access to self-checkout (85 percent), says McGee. “They are an interactive generation and crave an integrated technology experience — they don’t want a one-size fits all solution, either,” he explains. Retailers will need to align the technology experience with millennial expectations, he adds: “In shopping centers, we see property owners installing technology such as digital parking assistants and charging stations to create a millennial-influenced environment.”

Keeping up with changing social norms

Today’s pace of technology change is fast and furious, but millennials are forcing social norms to shift as well, leaving retailers to keep up across the entire shopping journey. For example, millennials may hit certain life stages later than previous generations, such as buying homes and having children. That, Wurmser says, will affect industries such as CPG and home remodeling, which will need to shift online and optimize mobile at a far more rapid rate than they are right now. “It will probably have an enormous impact on those industries that cater to the midlife period,” he says.

In the meantime, retailers are paying close attention to today’s millennial shopping habits — and need to keep their technology responsive to their demands. Digital and mobile is simply part of their world, so technology must begin to be a natural support for the entire shopping journey, whether it is in the store, on a laptop, or on a mobile device.

“Consumers are optimistic that retailers will continue to incorporate technology to help streamline the in-store shopping journey,” says McGee.

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