Retailers often assume that meeting the needs of the Millennial generation through technology is a highly specialized endeavor due to the unique experience these “digital natives” have had growing up in an IT-centric world. But before making that assumption, retailers should consider these words author Joyce Maynard, then a Yale freshman, wrote in her 1972 New York Times essay “An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life:”
“My generation is special because of what we missed rather than what we got, because in a certain sense we are the first and the last. The first to take technology for granted.”
Maynard was primarily referring to TV when she wrote of “technology,” rather than social media and constant connectivity. However, every generation that has come of age since World War II has grown up taking some form of disruptive consumer technology for granted. And every generation has assumed this made them special. The difference with Millennials is that for the first time, their elders agree with them.
Consumers in their teens and 20s have not changed that much since 1972 (or 1872, for that matter). Technology keeps advancing but the psychology of a person transitioning into adulthood pretty much stays the same. When meeting the needs of Millennial shoppers with technology, retailers should follow a few constant principles that will apply to serving them regardless of the direction IT advancements follow.
Time is of the Essence
Disruptive consumer technologies mostly involve reducing the time and increasing the convenience of delivering information. TV provides immediate, in-home visual content once only available in a movie theater. The Internet offers an instant global library with streamlined search capabilities. Whatever generation coming of age when a disruptive technology is introduced instinctively expects the whole world to operate at that level of speed and efficiency.
When retailing to Millennials, that means using text instead of email, social media pages instead of websites and offering full mobile transactional capability. Social and mobile technologies need to be fully integrated into the store experience as well, since Millennials expect everything in their lives to run at a virtual pace.
Youth will be Served
Millennials are at the age where they are developing their adult personalities and launching their independent lives. Disruptive consumer technologies have always placed more control in the hands of the consumer, and social and mobile technologies have enabled Millennials to grow up in personalized virtual environments that cross over into the physical world.
Retailers need to use digital technology to let Millennials decide how and when they want to browse and purchase products, as well as control what products they are offered. The experience of shopping in a store, on a website, through a social page or using a mobile device must be seamless, or Millennials will opt you out of their personal existence.
Fun and Games
It’s no secret the younger crowd enjoys a good time, and constant connectivity has taught Millennials that entertainment is always a click away. Retailers need to make the shopping experience fun using digital tools to turn browsing and buying products into a competitive game and let customers place their own photos and commentary into the social content stream. Gamification is not a novel add-on for the Millennial consumer, but a necessity to let them experience the level of fun they have come to expect from every activity in their lives.