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Merry Manipulation for Millennials

December 20, 2013

While older segments recognize that holiday sales ruses are how the game is played at this time of year, Millennials perceive retailers as actively trying to deceive them and encourage overspending.

That's according to a new study, Millennials and Holiday Retail Tactics, from MindSwarms, a digital market research startup. MindSwarms pays its survey respondents $50 to answer seven questions via a webcam.

The study, based on a nationwide U.S. sample, found that Millennials under the age of 30 expressed concern over three retail practices they see as common:

  1. Bait-and-switch product offerings
  2. Deceitful pricing tactics
  3. Guilt-inducing advertising

Millennials and Holiday Retail Tactics from MindSwarms on Vimeo.

Among the comments:

Joshua, 27: "Retailers do drop their prices a little bit ... but they make sure parents aren't disappointing their kids by guilt-tripping them to buy more."

Will, 19: "They advertise something really good ... but what they won't tell you is that there's a limited number of TVs and you end up not getting one ... but at that point, you are already manipulated into the store and might be pressured into buying something else you weren't actually looking for."

Ayasia, 20: "Basically the way that retailers manipulate shoppers is deceitful ... they will list a sale price as $125 and originally it was $125 all along!"

Paradee, 18: "Stores like Walmart and Target put a bunch of signs out that have 50 percent off and use discounts to get people's attention into buying things ... even when you're not planning on buying."

Melissa, 23: "The holiday sales are them really just clearing out their stock."

By contrast, shoppers over thirty acknowledge these holiday retail practices, but pride themselves on their self-control and ability to use retailer games to their own benefit.

MindSwarms concluded that an opportunity exists to connect in a more relevant manner to a new generation of shopper "that seems more suspicious of tried-and-true holiday retail tactics."

While Millennials are "often described as on a longer timetable to adulthood," their attitudes towards shopping have been shaped by more transparent digital pricing experiences, possibly leading to the resentment over traditional sales tactics.

"Whether these feelings will change as Millennials age remains to be seen," said Ryan Brill, senior project manager at MindSwarms, in a statement. "For the moment retailers should be conscious of how they come across during the holiday season."

Discussion Questions:

Do Millennials expect greater transparency around holiday deals than older generations? Which traditional holiday practices have to change to become more relevant for the Millennial generation? Can you name one customary holiday retail tactic that should be retired over the next few years?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

To what degree will tried-and-true holiday retail tactics have to change to become more relevant to the Millennial generation?


The Millennial generation will not outsmart good retailers. Good retailers balance the assortments to pull in the little buggers, get into their wallets, make them smile and share the purchase on some social network while they are walking off a pier (recent news: millennial walked off end of pier while texting).

Retire the old high markdown signs and promote the variety of merch and the brands. These young'uns are brand crazy and will pay more for them than we smart shoppers, for just the brand!

Tom - Glad to be old - See you all in 2014!  Have a Happy HolidayWIRE!

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

So digital pricing is transparent? Really? I think this again is an attempt to say how brick and mortar shops suck.

You could have found any Bitter Betty Baby Boomer to say the same things. I don't know what the "more relevant manner" would be unless someone thinks they know how much something costs, overhead, ROI and the rest.

Maybe it's because I recently saw Reds, and I could be out on a limb here, but I think there is a real socialism bent that some people are mad someone is making money. And however those businesses do indeed make money is inherently unfair, deceitful and wrong.

Giving them a mic just makes them believe they are right. I disagree.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

Millennials expect greater transparency, period. In fact, they will tolerate nothing less.

This is a generation that has grown up being conned, hoodwinked, and manipulated by trickery and marketing ploys. As a result, they become street-smart and market-savvy consumers before they are old enough to drive and have a giant B.S. meter glued to their forehead.

You can deceive them, but only once. Then you're deleted from their life forever; "dead to them." Worse, they will angrily shout about the deceptive practice to their entire network of contacts on social media. (Quoted from my 2002 book - "Employing Generation Why: Understanding, Managing, and Motivating Your New Workforce")

Previous generations grew up in a world of Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware.

This generation has changed that to Caveat Venditor - Seller Beware.

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Eric Chester, Keynote Speaker, Author, Reviving Work Ethic, LLC

It's hurts to learn that there is no Santa Claus. Welcome to the real world, Millennials. Online retailers employ many of the same tactics as their brick and mortar counterparts.

Online stores are updated instantaneously, while brick and mortar may advertise an item that is no longer available when you reach the store. That's the nature of retail. All consumers dislike getting shut out of a deal through intent or poor inventory management.

Some retailers have responded by guaranteeing that a sale-priced item will be available for a set period of time, others by offering like items for the sale price, once the featured product has been sold out.

Retailers would be wise to seamlessly integrate their online and offline operations and pricing and to increase transparency regarding the terms of their sales.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Are these insights really new? Are these kids really that smart and savvy? Are the rest of us just a bunch of lemming buffoons? I think not.

We all have smart devices and access more information, faster than we did just a few years ago. The retail 'truths' these kids are just discovering are old news for the rest of us. People who shop retailers who use these tactics do so with eyes wide open and seem to ask for more. The JCP pricing redux proved that!

It's naive to think that retailers are going to start advertising "Don't buy this unless you REALLY need it!" (Although I know of one that does.) Consumer's need to take responsibility for where and how much they spend. Saying that "the devil made me do it" is not only laughable, it's immature.

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

Now hear this...THEY ARE TRYING TO DECEIVE YOU. Stay alert. They will use whatever tactics they can to get more dollars from you...or so they think.

I do disagree a bit about the older generations understanding what the retailer is doing. When you listen to shoppers say, "I got a great deal...70% off." you know they are oblivious to pricing tactics. There is a good chance that item was planned along to be sold for that price.

What holiday retail tactic should be retired? The XX% off. The Millennials got it right. Don't try to fool me.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

"Manipulations"?! Are you kidding me? That's what advertising is all about! And, that doesn't only apply to holiday shopping. Of course, most of us are even more able to be manipulated during this time of year. However, you can go back to the beginning of time to see the manipulation that is also called "advertising." I'm not certain why the following example was the first to come to mind, however, does this tag line from an old jingle sound familiar to the more "mature" of us out there: "Wouldn't you really rather drive a Buick?"

I believe advertising tactics will continue to get only more manipulative in the future because that is what sells product. Happy Holidays! ;-)

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Folks, aren't we just looking at a generation that has been brought into the world of commerce a bit earlier than the rest of us? Long before they developed any real understanding of what commerce is and how it works? They call it deception and we call it it mark ups and mark downs. Their exposure and access to the internet and information has "Made It So" (Oh yeah, that was the other article).

Now this doesn't mean that retail is not long overdue in getting rid of cheesy, pandering marketing. All of us - not just the Millennials - are tired of being sold to. We all have information, pricing, availability at our fingertips and you are not going to pull the wool over our eyes anymore! Make it So! (Heehee, I just had to do that again....)

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

Wow. And I thought that a focus group was the most unreliable way to gather accurate consumer data. I stand corrected. I was able to make up a couple of actual interviews that I think more accurately shows the disillusionment of the Millennial.

Carlie, 19: "So, I went to a store so I could, like, buy some stuff. I had been lured to this retailer by what I think are high pressure tactics: ads on my phone, my mom told me to buy my brother something, and the store had a Starbucks. Like that old song, I felt like a rat in a trap."

Brent, 24: "No way, I'm not falling for all the hype that forces me to buy more than I can afford. So this year I bought everyone on my list gift cards. With the money I saved I picked up a sweet leather coat and Assassin's Creed 4."

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Larry Negrich, Vice President, Marketing, nGage Labs

What Millennials crave is authenticity. They demand it in their relationships with their friends, the companies they work for and the retailers they patronize. The holiday season fundamentally fails on all accounts and with the expansion of social media, that failure is clear and obvious.

Retailers must seek a paradigm shift in how they deal with Millennials - exposing their pricing and offer rationale and showing how these consumers can meet their needs - openly and honestly.

Very different from today's marketplace.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, M Squared Group, Inc.

I certainly do believe Millennials expect greater transparency in holiday shopping deals, due to their shopping habits being formed by mobile shopping and the ease with which they can comparison shop and research prior to purchase. Many studies have shown that Millennials are looking for a richer shopping experience where their purchase reinforces core values, contributes to a greater good or builds value in an incentive program.

Retailers may want to rethink the bait and switch tactics and focus more on offering Millennials what they are looking for. This is one good way to build a solid customer relationship.

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Karen S. Herman, Founder & Design Director, Gustie Creative LLC

These statements are no surprise and I agree with Bob that even a baby boomer would say it and probably they have heard them saying it. There is no question that Millennials love price transparency, since now they can compare at their fingertips. I think retailers can continue most of their tactics and just be transparent about them.

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Shilpa Rao, Practice Head - Merchandising, Tata Consultancy Services

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