The Store Still Matters, Even to Millennials

Turn on the television and you will likely see a commercial amiably poking fun at the technology prowess of today's younger generations. It's true. Millennials (Gen Y) have practically grown up with social media and mobile apps and their lives are closely linked with emerging technology.
For that reason, it is easy to assume that Millennials rely on digital commerce for all their shopping needs and would find little motivation to visit brick-and-mortar stores. However, that assumption was proved inaccurate during a recent focus group produced and hosted by RIS News and sponsored by RedPrairie.
The group of Millennial panelists revealed several important – and sometimes surprising – insights into their generation's shopping behaviors. Most notably, the store still matters. And for retailers looking to effectively communicate with this emerging consumer segment that stands nearly 90 million strong, Millennials were not shy in explaining the strategies necessary to attract and retain Millennial wallet share.
The Value of Face-to-Face Interactions
While Millennials enjoy using social media for insight and opinions, they still appreciate the in-store experience, particularly helpful sales associates and the instant gratification that comes with store purchases. 
One panelist said, "I like to research products online, find the closest store location, and purchase the product in the store. I also like to return products to the store rather than shipping [them] back via mail." Similarly, another panelist expressed a preference to "buy online and pick-up in the store because I will typically spend more money in the store than what I originally bought online."
All of the panelists expressed appreciation for helpful, informed sales people as great purchase motivators. Nothing is more frustrating to a Millennial shopper than a sales associate who cannot quickly provide accurate product information.
The Millennial customer can easily find product ratings, reviews and prices from multiple retailers via a smartphone in less time than it takes a sales associate to look up the information online. Retailers must arm salespeople with the tools they need to ensure optimal service levels and loyalty-building store visits.
Keeping Up With the Millennials, Everywhere
While all of the panelists expressed strong feelings for in-store shopping, they also reinforced the need for retailers to be present across multiple channels, including online, mobile and social media. The biggest challenge for retailers trying to attract Millennials is not all that different from the challenges they face when attracting older generations: integrating emerging channels with the in-store experience. 
Many retailers are still struggling to allow customers to place an online order and pick it up in-store. And, those that do often fail to provide a positive customer experience. One recent survey found that 33% of shoppers said they refused to pick up online orders in-store because of long wait times or bad previous experiences of buying online and picking up in-store. [Source: Compete Retail Survey, 2011]
Millennials will continue to change the retail landscape as they discover new ways to cross, bypass and bridge traditional selling channels with their innate technology and social networking skills. Retailers must keep pace or join the growing list of retail brands that have lost their relevancy and customer base to more innovative brands. Even best-in-class merchants must constantly reevaluate how they can leverage technology to create new opportunities for digital and in-store interactions.
Dave Bruno is the director of Corporate Messaging with RedPrairie. A complimentary copy of The Millennial Report is available here, or to access an on-demand webinar analyzing Millennials' shopping habits, click here.

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