For retailers focusing on Generation Y (aka millennials), the 2017 holiday shopping season could prove profitable. The consumer engagement firm First Insight predicts, “More millennial-age consumers [will] visit multiple stores in search of deals than their baby boomer elders do.” The firm’s research found, “Some 71% of millennials frequent a variety of stores, compared to 57% of baby boomers.” In spite of all the gloomy news about retailers shuttering their stores, First Insight’s findings demonstrate brick-and-mortar retail is not dead. The study also confirmed online shopping continues to grow. “While most millennials do go online to search for deals (82%), the study found that same shopping behavior within both generational groups, as more baby boomers (65%), especially those with higher incomes, are also looking online for the best price rather than in-store, First Insight said.” For me, the big takeaway from the study is the importance of having an omnichannel marketing strategy in place this holiday season.
Although retailers can’t afford to overlook any generation of shoppers, millennials should be their primary focus for the next few years. Why? Numbers. Eric Levenson (@ejleven) reports, “For the first time since 1947, America’s most common age is no longer part of the Baby Boom generation. Millennials have taken over.” He adds, “The rising prevalence of young 20-somethings can be explained by a combination of immigration and aging. Immigration has added people to the ranks of ages up until about 40 years old, when it begins to tail off. That means that the younger age groups continue to grow in size as the older ones start to fade away.” Retailers wanting to appeal to this age group need to understand the diversity they represent. Diverse groups need to be targeted in different ways so they receive the right offer at the right time to put them on the path to purchase.
Targeted marketing relies heavily on data and advanced analytics. Because so many variables are involved, cognitive computing systems are ideal platforms to be leveraged by marketers. Cognitive computing systems can gather, integrate, and analyze both structured and unstructured data and can handle many more variables than traditional computing platforms. In addition to traditional variables, like age and gender, marketers need to consider weather, special events, days of the week, and location. The First Insights study “found disparities by region in the U.S., with the Northeast hosting the greatest shift. In that region, 25% more millennials (73%) visit multiple stores to find deals than baby boomers (48%), who prefer going online. West Coast millennials search online and in-store almost equally, while in the Midwest more baby boomers go online than to stores. Southerners are more traditional, with more baby boomers sticking to stores than elsewhere.” Regardless of regional differences, the one thing that stands out is that omnichannel sales are growing in importance. This is particularly true for millennials. Below are a few tips experts suggest will help retailers appeal to Generation Y shoppers:
- Go mobile. Lance Bachmann (@Lancebachmann), founder and president of 1SEO.com Digital Agency, writes, “Eighty-five percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 years own smartphones, and 51.3 percent of all website visits occur on mobile devices.” Millennials are mobile junkies,” writes Christina Baldassarre (@ChristinaBaldas), a social media consultant, “and it is fairly obvious that a mobile device is the device of choice for this generation. Other generations use mobile more often than they used to, but they don’t trust mobile as much as millennials do.” Keval Padia (@keval_jp), a co-founder of Nimblechapps, adds, “Millennials use the latest technologies like personal assistants and voice search in searching their contents and they dislike apps that do not sync files easily across several devices. They like speed, ease of use, smart user interface and always want to taste something off their known limits. So, digital marketers, mobile apps, and websites targeting this millennial audience require having an extra degree of sophistication and brilliance.”
- Get Personal. Tink Taylor (@tinktaylor), founder of dotMailer insists, “Millennials like brands who get to know them and give them an opportunity to be part of the experience.” Padia adds, “They are far less tolerant about user experience that does not cater to their preference. Moreover, they like to feel important and want themselves to be addressed in a personalized manner.”
- Leverage User-generated Content. Sara Spivey (@SaraSpivey1), Chief Marketing Officer at Bazaarvoice, asserts, “Millennials spend nearly five hours per day with consumer-generated content (CGC), [and] there is an incredible opportunity for brands to get in front of this audience. Those who embrace CGC increase the potential to convert millennial consumers.” Padia agrees. He writes, “A whopping 54% of young shoppers cite user generated contents [as having] influence on their decision-making process. As various studies suggest, millennials spend hours in with consumer generated contents every day and they are more influenced by online reviews and such contents than customers of other age groups.”
- Embrace Social Media and Influencers. Baldassarre reports, “While different media influencers have proven to be successful, television continues to be the channel that has the most influence over millennials. Television has 70 percent more influence than other advertising channels, but social media comes to a close second, influencing more than 60 percent of millennials. Thirty-two percent of that 60 percent say that social advertising is more credible when influencing their decisions.” According to Mike Satterfield, creative director at Satterfield Group, “Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube is where millennials are spending their time. So it’s important to create relevant content in those spaces.” Brendan Lattrell (@brendanlattrell), founder & CEO of Grapevine, explains, “Tapping influencers — or social media users with a large following and expertise on a certain topic — is a great way for brands to market to millennials. This is especially effective considering that 70 percent of this demographic values endorsements from influencers that they consider peers vs. celebrities, according to a recent Collective Bias report.”
- Reward Loyalty. Jeff Epstein (@jeff_epstein), founder & CEO, Ambassador reports, “According to a recent survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Ambassador, 95 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds say they would like some sort of incentive for sharing a product via social media or email. [So] get creative and reward repeat purchases or referrals with cash, credit, loyalty points, early access or swag.” Anand Srinivasan, a marketing consultant, adds, “Once you have acquired a customer you want to retain them and grow with them over time. To create customer loyalty, you will need to continue giving helpful information to your customer and send educational content that is relevant and customized for each customer you have.”
Omnichannel retailers will be the big winners this holiday season. Although millennials are tech savvy and enjoy shopping on-line, research from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), found, “Most millennials (92%) this holiday season plan to spend money in a physical store.” The ICSC “is forecasting a 3.8% year-over-year growth in retail sales for the season.” Lara Ewen reports, “While 2016 holiday sales were up, they were only slightly so, with online sales coming out on top and in-store foot traffic showing a pronounced decline. According to Fung Global Retail & Technology, a retail think tank, that trend is expected to continue this year. Based on consumer feedback, Fung said 82% of its surveyed consumers expect to buy holiday gifts online this year, compared with 77% who anticipated buying gifts in physical stores.” What that means for retailers is that this season could be a bust if they don’t already have a strong omnichannel strategy in place.
 Daphne Howland, “Millennials will hit the stores this holiday season,” Retail Dive, 26 September 2017.
 Eric Levenson, “There Are Now More 22-Year-Olds in America Than Any Other Age,” The Atlantic, 23 May 2014.
 Lance Bachmann, “Digital Marketing to Millennials,” Natural Products Insider, 20 September 2017.
 Christina Baldassarre, “10 Tips for Millennial Marketing,” Entrepreneur, 9 February 2017.
 Keval Padia, “6 Useful Tips for Millennial Marketing,” Customer Think, 22 September 2017.
 Jennifer Lonoff Schiff, “8 Tips for Marketing to Millennials Online,” IT News, 16 May 2016.
 Anand Srinivasan, “How To Customize Your Marketing Funnel For Millennials,” Customer Think, 13 April 2017.
 Howland, op. cit.
 Lara Ewen, “Boom or bust? Holiday predictions are a mixed bag,” Retail Dive, 8 September 2017.