Let's start with a quote from a CNBC article reporting on 1Q retail trends in the US:
"Elsewhere on the earnings front, there's a problem at the mall, and Kohl's is symptomatic. The retailer's poor guidance and third-quarter same-store sales' 1.4 percent dip is certainly a disappointment, but maybe not a complete surprise.
"Consumers seem to be genuinely changing their spending habits. Malls are not as crowded. Apparel is not on the minds of Millennials. It's now about being interconnected. Go to a mall, and what stores are most crowded? The AT&T Store, the Apple Store, the Verizon Store."
Retail numbers are down, and there are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is a continually sluggish economy. But this isn't an economics piece. It's important to also consider, like the quote above, that Millennials – the largest spending block in the world – simply don't buy things the way anyone else does.
Put another way, whether or not your brand operates in the retail space, it's important to understand how Millennials shop and why Millennials purchase. Here are some givens that all brands need to consider, understand, and evaluate:
Customer Service – Before buying or engaging in a service, Millennials will read reviews or blogs by people they trust (key influencers) to find out as much as possible about your brand experience before handing over their credit card.
Compare and Contrast – No matter how cool or how needed your product or service is, be prepared for Millennials to shop the competition. Brand loyalty has limits – unless you're Apple – and budget-conscious Millennials will survey the field before purchasing. They won't always choose the best deal, but they'll be as informed as possible before clicking 'Buy' to ensure the purchase is one they can feel good about.
Put in Cart, Wait – Point #2 also means shopping carts can stay full for weeks. Abandoned shopping carts don't mean what they used to, i.e. there's no immediate reason to hit the panic button. Whether selling a product or service, sales teams must reevaluate lead times and conversion rates to adjust for discerning, informed Millennial shoppers.
Mobile – A steadily rising number of these Millennials referenced in points 1-3 are doing their shopping on their phones. That means stunted attention spans and a consumer mindset slanted strongly toward browsing and not buying. Plus, brands with the best mobile expereiences will be more likely to turn those browsers into eventual buyers.
Social – The conversation begins and ends here. This is where Millennials learn about your brand, experience your brand, engage with your brand, etc. This is where the personality of your brand is cultivated and grows, and where casual followers can eventually become hardy loyalists. Conversions are not the goal; engagement is the goal.
While retail can often be a flashpoint for greater symptoms of the consumer marketplace, the companies and brands that best understand how Millennials shop and spend will be the ones less likely to experience dips in leads, in conversions, in growth. It begins and ends with building and maintaining a great brand, but a great brand must also consider all the points above when it comes to its ability to connect with the largest consumer base in the world: Generation Y.