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What Millennial shoppers want is within reach of retailers

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Millennial shopper

Millennials have been a hot topic of conversation for more than a decade.

It’s the one generational group that continues to confound both employers and retailers: How do we attract them, engage them and retain them? Yet a majority of employees and shoppers are them.

Identified as those born between 1981 and 1997, Millennials became the largest segment of the U.S. workforce in 2015 and will constitute 75% of American workers by 2020. As important, Millennials are now entering their prime consumer years, which means they will be a profound force shaping U.S. retail and health in the coming decade. Millennials will also act as an information lifeline in helping organizations understand the even more unique tapestry of Gen Z, both as employees and consumers.

It is time to embrace the new normal. Organizations that are willing to engage and empower Millennials to transform, disrupt and innovate from within will find untapped sources of value from both an employer and a retailer perspective.

A.T. Kearney’s America@250 initiative is exploring how Millennials could reshape the U.S. economy by the time America marks its 250th birthday on July 4, 2026. We conducted focus groups with representative groups of Millennials around the country, seeking fresh understanding of their beliefs and priorities.

A.T. Kearney has also conducted additional primary research with a selection of Millennials from across the age spectrum to understand the Millennial mindset across four key decision points: initial career aspirations, choosing an employer, life on the job and making a change.
Millennials are driven by a range of career aspirations.

While making money is important, it is just one of their goals. This doesn’t mean that all organizations must save the world, but your organization’s purpose, vision, mission and/or core values are fundamental to the choices Millennials make.

Millennial Consumers

Some believe Millennial shoppers do not value brands, caring only about convenience. Yet in our focus groups, Millennials consistently told us that they can strongly identify with consumer brands “that have a status, or advertise the lifestyle that I like to live by, or that I would like to live by.” Millennials also said they are drawn to brands that reflect their deeply held personal values: “I like to think forward. For me, sustainability trumps convenience.”

Yet convenience clearly matters. Millennial consumers told us they turn to Amazon for most purchases, and nearly all say that they conduct the transactions on multiple devices: PC, tablet and smartphone.

As Millennials research a product, their purchase decisions are strongly influenced by user product reviews, Q&As, photos and branding/product information videos. They also ask for suggestions on social media and seek advice from friends and family.

When we asked Millennials what motivates them to shop brick-and-mortar stores, they pointed to three keys:

  • Entertainment. Millennials want multi-sensory experiences — the appeal of testing or sampling and social interaction while they shop.
  • Exploration. The ideal shopping experience is a treasure hunt that reveals exciting new products and innovations (66% of Millennials say they purchased a new product on their last shopping trip).
  • Speed. Millennials want the retail shopping experience to match the speed, convenience and immediacy of a purchase that they experience online.

How can retailers compete with e-tailers like Amazon? Know the purpose of your store and stick with it. Provide unique experiences that stimulate shoppers and motivate them to come back. Offer shoppers the opportunity to taste or try healthy new products as a differentiator to e-tailers. Provide convenience — this can often be the most important part of the retail experience.

Retail pharmacy can focus on hyper-convenience (easy in and out) and transition from being somewhere consumers go when they are sick to a resource they use to promote their health and wellness.

New Normal

  • Moving from boss to mentor/coach
  • Moving from annual reviews to 360-degree feedback
  • Moving from company to community
  • Moving from role to ­experience
  • Moving from “convince to stay” to “maximize the journey”
  • Moving from retail brand to retail purpose
  • Moving from convenience to hyper-convenience

The ever-changing landscape may seem to present more challenges than opportunities. Yet if you are willing to dismantle barriers and ask the right questions, your own employees can provide a rich resource. Trust and empower Millennials to partner with you to transform your organization. Embrace the role that retail stores play for Millennials and use it as a catalyst to up the game on immediacy, experience and new product discovery.

And leverage Millennials as your lifeline to navigate the even more diverse Gen Z that is to come.

Carol Cruickshank is a partner at A.T. Kearney; contact her at Carol.Cruickshank@atkearney.com. Bachul Koul is a manager at A.T. Kearney; contact her at Bachul.Koul@atkearney.com.


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