What will it take to win back the storeless generation?

Discussion
Feb 09, 2015

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from WayfinD, a quarterly e-magazine filled with insights, trends and predictions from the retail and foodservice experts at WD Partners.

The Millennial is the storeless generation — a generation raised in a chain-store world, one without third spaces, at least in the classic sense.

In his book, "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day," Ray Oldenburg described third spaces as welcoming and comfortable, mostly free or inexpensive, and within walking distance; places with food and drink where regulars connected with new and old friends. Sadly, few stores play such a meaningful and emotional role in the lives of consumers today.

A store isn’t the place you go for "happily anticipated gatherings." It is a place to be avoided.

So how does the storeless generation get "through the day" today? Based on frequency, with the heavy use of social media.

Yet Facebook and other social media sites are contributing to a new wave of mental health problems, and may actually be making users miserable. From a recent study of Facebook use, with an average participant age of 19, one researcher wrote: "On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it."

Another study, a survey of 515 college-aged Facebook users with high social media use, found that "users displace real world social ties to online ones," a process that ends up suppressing empathic social skills and life satisfaction.

In other words, the storeless generation, which has come of age at a time of dwindling physical third places and burgeoning virtual third spaces, find both spaces ultimately unsatisfying. It seems counterintuitive, but excessive social media — rather than threatening the business model for retailers — might actually present the greatest opportunity in generations.

In fact, innovative retail brands can still win back the storeless generation.

Consider a recent survey by a team of environmental psychologists in Perth, Australia, which found that high quality public open spaces and shops are the two most beneficial types of places for creating a sense of community, well-being, security, and civic responsibility. Perhaps more than any other generation, they still crave third places for social interaction.

But stores must find a way to make shopping easier — cut out the confusing store layout, untrained associates, check-out lines — and create new spaces where experiences and social interactions can happen. Stores have always been a vital part of human well-being and community belonging, but there’s room to do more.

Are stores merely a fulfillment center or do you have enough permission from consumers to turn your store into a third space again?

If the answer is the latter, the pleasure of shopping and the social interaction the younger generation crave can take center stage again.

Do you see social media components helping create a “third space” at retail for Millennials? What other changes will have to occur to make stores vital hangout spots for Millennials?

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19 Comments on "What will it take to win back the storeless generation?"

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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
Almost 90% of sales still consummate in stores. That doesn’t seem storeless to me. Now, I am definitely among the “storeless” in general, mostly because it’s a pain in the neck to get there (Miami traffic gets worse every year), park and then find what I’m looking for. But….having just gone shopping in several stores for the first time in quite some time, I found the experience surprisingly more pleasant. I stopped at Best Buy, Target and Trader Joe’s. Each had something unique and useful for me. I honestly feel retailers are working hard to put the snap back in… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
It is easy for me to misconstrue the point of the book mentioned in this article. In a literal sense, I don’t agree that Millennials are the “storeless generation.” They, more than any generation, have made stores such as Starbucks and Apple THE place to gather socially and enjoy the great product lines. I don’t think that culture is going anywhere. Even if all they do is text while in the stores, you can’t say they don’t go there to socialize. People are changing and so are the needs of consumers. As long as innovative stores continue to generate compelling… Read more »
Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
Omni-channel shoppers of all ages are redefining stores by virtue of their mobile devices and shopping journeys. For example, do stores really need to have checkout lines if shoppers can make mobile payments in the aisle? While it is intriguing to dream about stores as magical third spaces for Millennials, there are the cold hard facts and metrics of running a retail space called a store, however it is designed. It is not so much about “permission from consumers” to create a third space, but the practical reality of generating enough sales and profit per square foot to pay for… Read more »
Nikki Baird
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
I’m not sure that I agree with the fundamental premise of this article, that Millennials are “storeless.” Or even that they are storeless because stores don’t offer “third spaces.” First of all, isn’t there a Starbucks like every 10 feet across America? And food halls are making a significant return, also a space focused on third space almost as the more important part than the actual food sellers. And second of all, I thought there was a substantial body of research on Millennials that showed that they actually have a preference for in-person interactions, primarily because they value them more… Read more »
Joan Treistman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
I have trouble attributing overriding wants and needs to a segment of the population (Millennials) and then coming up with the one solution such as “third space” at retail. I admit that when they were first available to the public I didn’t know how much I needed a microwave until I had one. Actually I still didn’t know how much I needed a microwave, until I had one for years and found many uses for it. So do Millennials know they need a “third space” at retail? If retailers invest in creating hangout spots who will show up? Who will… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
Being the parent of two Millennials I have my own petri dish to observe at least two data points. One thing that is very clear is that the local coffee shops with Internet access are instrumental components in their lives. Not only as a social “treffpunkt” but as a retreat to do their homework and collaborate on projects. Perhaps retailers can tap into this consistent behavior in creating a third experiential space. The challenge is creating a space that will draw Millennials while at the same time trying not to litter this space with propaganda, merchandising and promotional tactics. Millennials… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t believe it. This characterization of Millennials as hiding behind five-inch screens just isn’t real. As we speak, they’re enjoying a coffee in a Starbucks, buying a $6 foot-long, and perusing the racks at Forever 21. Social media has its place, but it isn’t supplanting the real world, even for digital natives.

Roger Saunders
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
Oldenburg points out that the Millennial generation is tribal, at least from the description below: “Ray Oldenburg described third spaces as welcoming and comfortable, mostly free or inexpensive, and within walking distance; places with food and drink where regulars connected with new and old friends.” That’s fine. All human beings are. For those of us who are aging Boomers, do you remember some folks referencing us as the “Beat Generation?” Do Generation X members remember a sociologists calling them the “Lost Generation?” Those prognosticators said that they would never blend in. Just as those literary fabrications proved erroneous, so too… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
If you are talking about cafes, coffee shops, bars, public spaces, etc., I see plenty of young people gathering. These places seem to be more social than they have ever been. If we are suggesting that a retail store selling apparel can become a social gathering place in order to attract Millennials, that thinking is way off base. A retail store is a retail store, it is not a social gathering place. Barnes and Noble as a retail store is facing great difficulty. But their cafes are always packed. When I stop at a cafe it seems there is never… Read more »
richard freund
Guest
richard freund
2 years 10 months ago

I have gone back to the stores. I found Amazon’s customer service to be lacking big time. I was pleasantly surprised at the competitive pricing in the stores and will be going there more often.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
Incentive is the driving force to create and expand every day commodity purchase interest. In-store only deals and pick-up will continue to show limited response mostly from the in-store crowd. New items are always a draw as we have seen in the technology stores but the draw is almost always surrendered to the dot-coms as soon as production quantities ramp up and the product is experienced in its intended environment. The brick-and-mortar crowd will continue to be a place for urgency and delivery practicality for the foreseeable future. This means that along with customer support, location and price there are… Read more »
Liz Crawford
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I feel that this article is still trying to push Millennials into a physical space, because as Boomers, that’s what we like (being a Boomer, I can say that).

Instead, when it comes to marketing we need to “Fish Where The Fish Are.”

The way to “win back” the store-less generation is to set up stores where they go, namely to the virtual spaces they hang out.

The new virtual storefronts can take a cue from video games with their eye-popping graphics and easy navigation. Hey, don’t look back.

Ed Dunn
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
I agree Millennials do not like stores, like, two-hour trips to stores and retail stores are boring. The abandoned shopping malls and empty strip malls across America speak for themselves. What Millennials likes is spontaneity like pop-up shops, discount deals popping up on their smartphones and being able to transfer real-world experience to their social media avatar. This goes back to the hospitality element of retailing, of creating a social space for retailing. I seen malls turned into a “walking space” promoting active lifestyle in an indoor environment. On Michigan Ave. in Chicago, they employ DJs to spin music to… Read more »
Tom Redd
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
This is really confusing to me. “A store isn’t the place you go for ‘happily anticipated gatherings.’ It is a place to be avoided” Say what? These attitudes do not appear to apply to where I live or the places around the globe that I visit. Millennials and Gen X are not storeless. Ever been to a GameStop on a Saturday? Target on a Friday night? A classy mall on a Friday night? So many groups of kids it drives you nuts! Stores are way more than a fulfillment center. They are still a social space. PetSmart? Petco? All people… Read more »
Lee Kent
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
I like the conversation about third spaces, but do I think this is what Millennials are thinking about? Nope! Are they the storeless generation? Nope! Can’t buck that 90% Paula mentioned. Not yet anyway. The Millennials I know, enjoy going to stores and have their favorites, Apple and Starbucks among them. So, what does this tell us, really? It tells us that customer experience should be at the center of every retailers world. No need to have piles of merchandise and rounders with garments shoved in so you can’t even see the sizes without major effort. Retailer should create experiences… Read more »
Stacey Silliman
Guest
Stacey Silliman
2 years 10 months ago
It will take genuine customer service and store associates who know what they’re talking about. Millennials are efficient and will research products before they buy. When they decide to make a purchase, they want the transaction to be quick. In most cases, it’s easier to order online and have items delivered vs. deal with staff who cannot help you or stores that do not have items you want in-stock. As a Gen Xer, I’m right there with the Millennials, even though I truly want the brick and mortar stores to stay alive. In doing so, I subjected myself and a… Read more »
Kate Blake
Guest
Kate Blake
2 years 10 months ago
The sad thing is, for the Millennials who have had to take jobs in retail to tide them over in the current economy, retail is a dirty word. Imagine a Millennial who has been one of the on-call employees for so many companies. After being on the inside, would you ever go back to shop? Go to Buzzfeed or Glassdoor and see how they feel about retail. The kid who had to be the greeter or folder or who had their hours cut every week or had to clean up every night doesn’t see retail as a great entertainment place.… Read more »
Bryan Pearson
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
A key to becoming a “third space” is putting your consumers’ needs first and central to your business, and using the data they share with you to generate relevant experiences they value. For instance, U.S. consumer survey research conducted by LoyaltyOne revealed that 84% of Millennials (age 18-29) said that being able to redeem rewards/loyalty program points for a session or consultation with a chef or nutritionist would motivate them to shop more with that grocer. This session is clearly a significant time investment on the part of the consumer that would be spent in a grocer’s retail space, and… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
2 years 10 months ago
Many big boxes have included coffee shops and cafes in their footprint, but neither seem to work because the reach of the store is such that the clientele is not regular, hence no bonding, no common interest. For a place to be a hangout spot, it must be welcoming and friendly, encouraging interaction, not just another profit point. Stores with local reach do a better job of this as neighbors seeing each other rather than strangers encourages people to speak. A big box store doesn’t stand a chance of becoming a hangout spot, a large bookstore might, a local bar… Read more »
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