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Harnessing Millennial Power

Creating an engaging, relevant and valuable retail experience is key to merchandising to this potent portion of the population.

By Robin Enright, Contributing Writer
February 12, 2015

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Millennials, those in the United States population who are currently between ages 18 and 33, or who were born between 1981 and 1998 — depending on the definition you read — are the latest generation to be placed under the retail landscape microscope.

Wise merchandising and marketing professionals work hard to understand today’s youth in order to appreciate the attributes of this unique demographic and, more importantly, to speak to it.

In addressing the millennial demographic as it pertains to retail merchandising, it’s important to make one thing clear: The bricks-and-mortar shop is not dead; the space just needs to be revisited with new thoughts on how to engage today’s youth. That concept, engagement, is the name of the game here. Forget about traditional selling and attribute-only information; smart retailers must get on board with creating that relevant experience to take advantage of millennials’ wallets and purses.

Like any generation, be careful not to lump everyone born within a certain time period into the same pile. However, it’s wise to understand general attributes in order to make savvy decisions that don’t miss the mark and that work hard to pull in the audience.

WHO ARE THEY?
Today’s millennials grew up active and competitive in sports, with girls participating in many of the same team activities as their male counterparts. In fact, co-ed experiences generally were the norm, with girls and boys often learning side by side instead of in gender-specific classes. Many in this generation tended to grow up with “helicopter parents,” those who hovered above and paid intense attention to both their educational and social lives.

Research has identified other key attributes about this much-studied generation. In mindset, millennials tend to be upbeat, believing that the best years of the country’s history have yet to come. They are detached from institutions, are more concerned with having good relationships than climbing the corporate ladder and stay abreast of political affairs.

Millennials also tend to live with their parents for a longer time period, are team players and engaged, desire to make the world a better place while understanding the challenges in doing so, and are far more socially and culturally liberal. Comfort with and use of technology and social networks makes this next generation easier to access — if the message resonates, that is.

According to published research, millennials make up 25% of the population and exceed the number of baby boomers by about 3 million. While they may be frugal, they still shop. This generation is looking for ways to make their lives easier, so elements that speed up their ease of purchase, while also being efficient, are important when considering in-store requirements. These are strong determining factors when millennials are deciding where to shop and when shopping online.

Classifying each millennial is dangerous; individuals are unique, and for every 20 year old that eats organic, there is another that frequents fast-food restaurants. Still, a bit of pigeonholing is necessary for creating environments that appeal to this group, and there is one solid thing to remember: The content and environment must be fresh, relevant and ideally should add value to their lives. Hard selling to this population likely will fall on deaf ears.

INTERPRETING THE DATA
Now that you know something about this demographic, how do you interpret the data and create a retail environment that effectively competes for their dollars?

Leslie Prevish, principal at Prevish Marketing, Boulder, Colo., suggests that one of the most important things retailers can do is to think outside of the box. What worked in the past is old news; millennials resonate with the new and, because their world moves so quickly, what works today may necessitate being reviewed for relevancy tomorrow.

Prevish suggests finding ways of actively engaging this group’s social aspect. Store signage and graphics that target millennials should be group oriented versus 
gender-specific or solo. Events that pull groups together, like team nights, are more apt to get the attention of these shoppers, as they include a social focus.

Other options to get millennials in the door include connecting locally on national social issues, like obesity or conservation, through indirect marketing and messaging as part of the retail environment. Gaming continues to be big; establishing a group competition around these things or supporting a brand that does may get more attention than a product information tag or team color.

Also, remember not to market the same old way for female members of the millennial segment. “Pink it and shrink it” will not work with these confident, comfortable-with-the-opposite-sex women. In fact, they are more likely to enjoy co-ed classes and methods of learning new tricks than their older counterparts.

SUCCESS STORIES
Following are short stories of two retailers in different industries that nail the message. Even though they are not licensed sports product retailers, you can still use the examples of what they do well in your retail setting.

Philadelphia-based United by Blue layers marketing and merchandising messages in its cause to clean up the nation’s waterways. The company pledges to remove 1 pound of trash for every product sold and organizes cleanups around the country. This not only speaks to the environmentally focused millennial, but also provides a social opportunity for youth to do good and hang out.

United by Blue doesn’t stop there. When building its flagship store, employees developed a space that best represents its philosophy by using repurposed materials. A “customer hangout” space was added, as well as a coffee house that serves organic coffee and food, all of which is sourced locally.

The Refill Shoppe in Ventura, Calif., is another example of an environment that caters to the cause-minded and frugal millennial. It does its best to be environmentally friendly by letting customers fill up their own bottles with an inventory of shampoo, soap, detergent, etc. If customers don’t have their own reusable bottles, they are available for purchase.

An edgy retail environment may group millennial men’s and women’s products side by side, or (gasp!) create a co-ed department for this demographic that allows for social interactions with friends while they shop. Spark a movement or align with an authentic cause while promoting social media games and interaction in a fresh, clean environment, and you may be on your way to appealing to millennials. The power to not only encourage sales, but also get these younger consumers into the store in the first place, is yours to harness.

Robin Enright is the founder of Merchandising Matters, an agency that provides visual merchandising guidance to brands and retailers, as well as Permission to Leap, an organization that leads women to leaping into their life-long dreams. For more information or to comment on this article, email Robin at robin@merchandisingmattersnow.com or visit merchandisingmatters.com.