Selling to the Millennial Tribe

Discussion
Nov 05, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from the Retail Doctor’s blog.

Even though your store has that certain look and feel and you have the right merchandise with an excellent open-to-buy program, Millennials have now made your job even harder.

How?

Because it isn’t just one person walking into your store, it’s a whole tribe.

For Millennials, shopping is like an online social game; the task is to find something unique at a store, ask your tribe whether it is worth adding to your collection, then pay for it and encourage others to trust your choice. They share photos of their collection on Instagram and the other social networks to build credibility. Once that is established, they will trade, repurpose, resell or donate their temporary purchases to make room for others.

Retailers are no longer contending with just one person during the sale but with an entire circle of social connections. And you’re not dealing with them after they’ve worn the garment, used the widget or redecorated their place with it, but prior to the purchaser saying, "I’ll take it."

And once those customers have the tribe’s okay, how will you as a retailer get the rest of the tribe to come into your store? Word-of-mouth used to take weeks — now it is in nanoseconds. That’s why smart retailers must sell to the tribe, not just the individual in front of them.

The good news is that done correctly, this will propel sales much higher. This is an important difference as Boomers were all trying to fit in with the "must have" pair of shoes, outfit or toy. Millennials want to show their individuality, but it must be approved in advance by others miles or continents away while they are in your store.

Marginalize, judge or ignore these players and you’ve ignored potentially hundreds of others.

How are Millennials and active social-media users transforming the shopping experience? Is selling to a Millennial’s “tribe” necessary?

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11 Comments on "Selling to the Millennial Tribe"


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Tom Redd
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Selling to Millennials is a must do for many retailers and they know this. Some areas in retail are trying different ways outside of diving into the social space. For example, we have retailers that are opening “online” mini-stores that target a lifestyle. Furniture is a testing ground for this approach, and I think the DIY area will be next. Tune the soft store to Millennials to decrease rapid change costs and expand in social — but do not overdo it. Many retailers, like me, are not Millennial in age but can be like them in “mind.”

Get hip. Lift margins. Gain new shoppers.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
6 years 5 months ago

Bob’s observations are, as usual, very thoughtful. I’m not sure, however, that 1) the Millennials are so lemming-like that they wait for someone else to give them approval to buy something and 2) this behavior will persist as they get older, get jobs, have kids, etc.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
6 years 5 months ago
Marketing to the millennial tribe is a true opportunity for retailers in almost all categories. It is not only the approval of the tribe, but the gamification of the purchasing process that Millennials love. The toughest part is smoothing out the bursts so you can actually get the most from this very social tribe. What I mean by that is how you do you carry enough of a unique item so you can sell to everyone interested? The struggle is if you have too many it may not be that unique or you may miss the best social buyers that would help spread the word. Then you’re stuck with inventory. If you have too little of an item you sell out and miss sales. One thought is building your inventory consistently from social feedback. This requires true listening and more importantly participation in the social conversations from retailers. A Facebook page or Twitter feed is not enough. You need to provide content, feedback and ask questions. Whole Foods and Tasti D-Lite are still two of… Read more »
Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
6 years 5 months ago
Millennials are impulsive. They need to feel that what they are doing at every single moment is on-trend and continues to position them as being in the know with their peers. Having a retail environment that is appealing to this elusive group is a huge challenge as they seek the new ‘it’ places and purchases. One way to accommodate these needs is by creating transitional spaces within the fixed environment. These can be destination sections in the store, endcaps, sampling/demos, etc. To keep up the interest level, these could be somewhat flexible and move around to encourage an exploratory approach. Retailers that have done a great job of this over the years are Trader Joe’s, Stew Leonard’s and Home Goods. Shoppers know that the shopping experience will never be the same twice in a row, and that is what keeps them coming back. Milliennials, in their quest for a new experience, even, dare we say it, adventure, are quick to ‘like’ something in social media if they think it is worth recommending. Creating an interesting… Read more »
Marge Laney
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Bob’s report is well researched and insightful as usual. The Millennial’s have been lambasted by those who don’t understand them as disinterested and self-absorbed. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. As Bob points out, they’re just different. Retailers who figure this out and connect with them in an authentic way can’t miss. Don’t believe me? Look at Zumiez.

Lee Kent
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Folks, sharing and interacting with your friends and support group for this age has always been the norm. We just didn’t call them tribes and it was done in a very different form. The bottom line is that retailers who cater to this age group must always be on their toes and ready to embrace new trends and methods of communication.

I would add that one key difference I see in the Millennials and past generations is that they want to be engaged by the retailer too. They want to be recognized and listened to in order to be loyal to a brand. Then their loyalty is pretty true blue. Just sayin’….

Jonathan Marek
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

It’s an interesting pattern. Already, fast fashion leaders get far more product in front of customers than they could have in the past. More and more niche players provide many accessories that can be combined to make fashion more unique.

I also wonder if it is time again for the idea of mass customization. When Dell made waves in the ’90s with mass customized computers, everyone thought it would happen everywhere. I don’t think it really has yet — instead, we’ve gotten much more exciting merchandise much more quickly at great prices across retail sectors (from Costco to Forever 21). But I bet this will be a frontier for retailers to innovate, test, and learn over the next couple decades.

Lee Peterson
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

I get where we’re going with this, but the truth is you can’t deal with any customer group without dealing with the individual. So much more is at play, like psycho-graphics, life stage, day part, product benefits, need state, etc. A good sales associate has to find out what those are first and then address their relationship with the product he or she is working with (if any).

Imagine yourself on the sales floor and what you think is a ‘Millennial’ walks in. What are you going to do? Think of the tribe they belong to, or start to address them as a person? How do you even know what tribe they’re in? I’d bet on the personal approach every time.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Is this group of consumers fickle, impulsive and conversant in social media? Yes. So is every other group. Sure Millennials get the press, however, even Baby Boomers have capitalized upon social channels for shopping, to say the least. Also, every consumer’s product loyalty is a challenge for brands and retailers to capture and maintain.

So, the issue is more to grab the consumer’s attention for more than a second and offer your points of differentiation. Regardless of their age or any other characteristic.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Social media basically increases volatility and velocity. Everything is faster, so if you take care of an individual, the tribe knows instantly.

James Tenser
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Marauding tribes of mobile-enabled Millennials stalk our stores. Chilling.

It’s just further evidence of the Incredible Dissolving Store — where the traditional boundaries that used to divide in-store marketing influences from rest of the world are disappearing with a *poof*.

Where Social-Mobile-Local-Tribal influences come to bear, the data are much bigger, more unstructured and less predictable. Decision life cycles keep accelerating. Marketing and category planners can no longer expect to solve the equation. They must focus instead on learning to tune the system.

It’s hard to separate the innate traits of the Millennial generation from their technology behaviors. Sure, you try to influence everybody involved; but you have to give up the expectation of control.

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