Let me be clear. Despite reports to the contrary, Millennials are not killing retail. Quite the opposite. Millennials (who now account for a quarter of the U.S. population) are reviving retail, breathing new life into an industry that needed metaphorical resuscitation coming out of the Great Recession.
The Millennial generation has let retailers know they have two choices: innovate or step aside to make room for a competitor that will. As a result, retail brands that for years had succeeded with uninspired stores and traditional business models are under immense pressure to catch up to the digitally-equipped, experiential retail spaces redefining when, where and how people shop.
While every new project MG2 undertakes leads to design solutions specific to that client’s business, below are three insights that can help nearly any retail brand better connect with Millennials.
- Millennials prefer to make purchases from their phones, often while standing in a physical store. In response, aspects of a store (or even an entire store) should be merchandised to allow customers to thoroughly research and experience products. Through a combination of WiFi, GPS and mobile-powered loyalty programs, retailers can measure if a customer’s in-store experience attributed to them making a purchase online.
- As tech-reliant as they are, Millennials still like to engage with a salesperson when shopping – but not just any salesperson. The individual needs the ability to provide personalized recommendations and expert guidance. This increasingly requires salespeople to be untethered from the cash wrap and have access to iPads. In such a scenario, cash wrap areas can be minimized and the space at the front of the store repurposed into a “wow” shopping moment.
- Retailers need to adopt buy online, pick up in-store programs ASAP. Because Millennials are likely to find inspiration online and know what product(s) they want before entering a store, the option for in-store pickup is appealing because it lets them complete the transaction more efficiently. Stores need to be designed with dedicated storage space and concierge desks to prevent cash wraps and stock rooms from looking disorganized when items are pulled in advance of a customer’s arrival.
As a retail designer, I couldn’t be more thrilled by the current industry shakeup. MG2 is increasingly being approached by brands interested in creating sensory-rich physical environments that are less about selling and more about building offline community. As technology has made our society more anti-social, physical retail provides people with valuable opportunities to form connections with like-minded individuals, both other customers and sales associates. Designing stores with flexible spaces to enable showrooms, classes, pop-up shops, brunches and parties is an ideal way to appeal to multi-tasking Millennials looking to build their skills and networks while simultaneously experiencing products and services curated for them.
In my opinion, Millennials are too often the scapegoats for shopping malls going dark and billion-dollar brands filing for bankruptcy. Frequently swept aside is the fact many of these national retailers’ woes are self-inflicted, the result of decades of mismanaged debt, poorly negotiated real estate deals and over-aggressive growth strategies.
Rather than finger pointing, I think we should be high-fiving this generation and saying, “Thank you for helping us create more dynamic and engaging retail spaces than we ever thought possible.”