Most retailers are scratching their heads trying to figure out this elusive set of consumers we call millennials. They are, after all, the single largest population in the US at over 75 million strong. And they’ve demonstrated an unwillingness to follow in the footsteps of the generations before them when it comes to shopping and purchasing behavior.
Traditional methods that retailers used to attract and retain consumers simply don’t work with millennials, and retailers must adapt if they are to remain – or become – relevant to this important segment. Some analysts are even foreshadowing imminent retail spending stagnation unless the purchasing power of the millennial segment can be unlocked.
While we agree there are challenges, we also believe some solutions are well within reach. Spend some time talking with 18-34 year-olds and you’ll learn a great deal. At Affirm, we continue to do just that, and we have a simple set of actions that can help you start breaking through.
These include a focus on convenience and control, a shift in the ways these shoppers discover and learn about your products, and a recognition that millennials have different views about money. For each, we recommend simply that you meet them where they are.
Here are a few things we’ve learned that can help get you started:
Customer Service, Convenience and Control
It used to be the case that exceptional customer service was reserved for those who shopped with high-end retailers. Today, every retailer needs to provide it. Millennials are demanding to try your products – at their convenience – and make decisions at their leisure: Ship it for free; Return with no cost or hassle; Pile up the reward points for loyalty; Offer a multitude of payment options, and don’t force anyone to pick up the phone for customer service.
Millennials not only want a choice among the products they’re shopping for, they want control in the process. Our advice: give it to them.
Product Discovery Channels have Changed
If you’re pouring resources into your SEO “strategy,” you likely aren’t driving a large number of millennial clicks. This generation isn’t relying on Google, they’re looking to industry trendsetters and influencers to inform them. Honing in on those influencers requires not only knowing your audience, but also the the people influencing your audience.
Millennials are following influencers on Instagram and Snapchat to keep up with what’s new and hot, while great content remains king on Facebook. People looking for home gadgets or trendy gear aren’t relying on content provided by retailers – they trust The Sweethome and The Wirecutter for unbiased reviews and bulletproof testing, for example, and they’re keeping up with Product Hunt for the latest in tech.
Knowing and figuring out how to organically engage through natural discovery channels will help your marketing team better connect with shoppers early on in their journeys.
Millennials Think Differently When it Comes to Spending
This generation does not use credit cards the way other demographic groups have. In fact, the percentage of Americans under 35 who have a credit card is the lowest it has been since the Federal Reserve started tracking data in 1989. An incredible two-thirds of millennials do not own a credit card.
Credit cards have traditionally accelerated and simplified purchases, but how can you build relationships with this cohort averse to open-ended debt? Consider offering alternative options, such as short-term financing. Breaking down large purchases into predictable, affordable monthly payments has proven to resonate well with the millennial buyer who sees spending through a lens of monthly cash flow, and it can be used as a marketing lever – not just a payment option.
As with any marketing challenge, there is no single tool to address all the concerns and objections. But if you’re a brand in pursuit of millennials, continuing to leverage old-school tactics will continue to net you old-school buyers. By simply establishing a checklist of actionable goals and checking them off one-by-one, retailers can make real strides at addressing the needs of millennials. This generation is very large, they’re young and they’re here to stay. Don’t ask them to meet you on your turf…reach out and meet them where they are, and watch how well they respond.