What do Millennials want in store design?

Photo: RetailWire
Jan 09, 2017
Tom Ryan

Tidy and fun are among the features Millennials are looking for in store design, according to a study from researchers at the University of Florida.

As part of the study, Millennial students at the school evaluated stores within a five-mile radius of campus. Over 500 images, accompanied by detailed annotations averaging about 30 words of what they liked and didn’t like were analyzed.

The study, featured in the Journal of Interior Design, uncovered seven themes:

  • Tidiness: Millennials reacted negatively to selling floors that appeared messy and dirty. They even objected to having employees restocking shelves when they were shopping.
  • Organization: Clearly organized merchandise (e.g., color blocking) that facilitated the shopping experience was frequently called out.
  • Humor/fun: Participants appreciated tongue-in-cheek humor, whether from novel mannequin displays, playful imagery or witty signs.
  • Quality: Millennials liked when bargain stores invested in higher-end displays that seemed to enhance the quality of the products.
  • Ease: Retail environments with well-defined spaces that encouraged easy navigation to find what they were looking for without question were preferred.
  • Personalization: Millennials appreciated having an “at-home experience” or residential feeling inside stores.
  • Aesthetic attributes: Some shoppers identified the color white as aesthetically pleasing and representative of “upscale,” “clean,” and “modern” interiors. Another hue that drew interest was the color red because it signaled sales merchandise.

The study did not cover what many have said are important areas of concern in designing for Millennials, such as addressing the tech-savvy generation with interactive touchscreens, videos and charging stations. Providing opportunities for social sharing is also often recommended.

In a blog entry, WSG Interiors, a U.K.-based store design specialist, wrote that studies show that Millennials see shopping more as a social activity and delivering “an ‘experience’ is a new thing” for many stores. However, rather than simply adding a café to a store or setting up gimmicks like selfie points, the design changes have to work for the customer.

“For many, it won’t really take much realignment, just a little extra thought,” WSG wrote. “But for others, this might mean revisiting their entire store design. It’s about understanding your audience.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What store design changes may be necessary to better address Millennials? What other suggestions would you add to those mentioned in the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The key to every demographic is the same. Relevance. This means retailers need to continuously reinvent the store experience. "
"These values aren’t for Millennials — they’re for all modern people."
"Retailers have a real advantage with Millennials to incorporate digital components and move to a small footprint, as they redesign."

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21 Comments on "What do Millennials want in store design?"

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Tom Dougherty

The key to every demographic is the same. Relevance. This means retailers need to continuously reinvent the store experience. Today is already past tense. The list in the article is a rehash of table stakes.

Paula Rosenblum

Big box stores have the biggest problem here. It’s not exactly personalization as described above, but more personal relevance.

If I’m looking for a casual black shirt, I shouldn’t have to wander around half the store exploring different brands. I should be able to go to the area that most closely matches my lifestyle and look at the black shirts.

This is incredibly complicated to achieve for a variety of reasons, but it strikes me as a complete imperative. The rest of the items on the list are table stakes for any generation.

Charles Dimov

For Millennials, in-store has to provide a great experience. Service is key to get them to come back next time. It means polite and — more importantly — helpful store associates.

Then retailers need to emphasize the in-store experience on their website and with online efforts. Get customers to come in for a pickup by emphasizing the instant gratification (don’t you want it right now?). After all — even getting the Millennials to pick-up their merchandise in-store increases your odds of having them buy a few additional items.

That great service is what will have them come back for more, even though they are the generation that loves online shopping.

Lee Kent

Millennials want experiences that serve them. If it’s apparel, curate outfits to show them how to make multiple outfits from one. If it’s electronics, give them a way to indicate the things they are looking for and give them a short list comparison. If it’s a super busy business like, say, Starbucks, give them a way to go to the head of the line.

It’s all about service for my 2 cents.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

The list of store attributes is a good one, though I expected to see “exciting” in the aesthetic qualities since buying is emotional. Retailers should present products in a lifestyle context to align with patron wants, needs and aspirations, and when these change to reflect the calendar’s events, the reason to visit the location is inherently updated, fueling increased visit frequency. Part of “exciting” is the profile of new arrivals and discount opportunities.

Ralph Jacobson

The first issue I have with the questions posed in this article is that all Millennials are NOT alike. You need to break down the demographic much more effectively than just that huge age group in order to plan your particular format of physical store. So a fast-fashion retailer would have a different approach than a supermarket, etc. And of course that’s true for all age groups. First determine specifically who your intended audience is. From there, the suggestions in the article can definitely make sense. In general attention spans for all American have shortened, so creating “sound bites of merchandising” can be very effective.

Jasmine Glasheen
Jasmine Glasheen
Contributing Editor
2 years 4 months ago

Sparse, well-highlighted product will do better than stacks of inventory. This is especially true on full-price racks, where presentation is half the battle. Off-price merchandise is a somewhat different animal: customers look for the thrill of the hunt. Because of this, off-price merchandise can be displayed in well-organized piles that require a little digging.

Let’s also add sensory experience. Millennials are in it for the experience. We know the cheapest product can be found online, so if a store is uncomfortable we aren’t going to stick around. The store should smell clean, have adequate air circulation and a temperature which lingers around 72 degrees.

Equally important: keep clean bathrooms! When stores are understaffed, the bathrooms are the first thing to go. A bad restroom experience is never forgotten and it’s a reputation-killer, so keep your restrooms on point.

Ron Margulis

Technological engagement is a must. Having free Wi-Fi is mandatory, but beyond that retailers need to make the jump from the smartphone to the store practical and appealing. And they have to do this without getting too dodgy or intrusive. Millennials can smell fake a mile away.

A few examples:

  • Use beacons connected to the retailers app to create cross-selling opportunities.
  • Use the data collected so an item that several local shoppers have been researching online can be highlighted in the store.
Chris Petersen, PhD.

The list of attributes of what Millennials really want in store design do not seem to be that unique. Neat, tidy, easy-to-navigate stores offering personalized service would appeal to customers of all ages. Apple stores are the epitome of designing a space that is social, fun and organized for customers across the generational spectrum.

There are some critical Millennial attributes that appear to be missing from the list. The Nex Mall has literally been designed for Millennial shoppers by using technology to make the digital experience seamless with physical shopping at the mall and across stores. The digital connection is personalized and continues after the sale as the “stores” literally follow the customers home on their smartphones.

Joan Treistman

From time to time there’s mention of research results that may not accurately cover what the retailer wanted to learn. And here’s an example. The proof is in the shopping.

Having respondents react to pictures is hardly the same as having the Millennials actually shop the store.

This is easy enough to achieve while using eye tracking glasses to capture what is seen and overlooked as the shopper goes through the various sections with a goal or no goal, i.e., instructions to buy something or just to decide if the store had something for them. Well, I’m not going to construct the research methodology here (too boring, right?).

In this article, it’s clear that the researchers considered the context and absolute need to expose the retail environment. However, a two-dimensional version of the stimulus is not sufficient.

We can get thrown off by what looks “good,” but not get to understand what “works well.”

Martin Mehalchin

Echoing Ralph and Joan’s comments, this study is mislabeled. It’s about students at the University of Florida and not representative of all Millennials. One of the biggest mistakes marketers or retailers can make is to treat Millennials (or any other generation) as one unitary demographic. Rather than relying on studies like these, retailers would be better advised to do their own research on what their specific current and target shoppers want in an experience.

Lee Peterson

A miss in this info compared to what we know is peer reviews. Young people we talked to across the country rated peer reviews higher than touch and feel and wondered why no one was using them in-store (other than AMZ’s new bookstores).

Good question. And the 900 lb. gorilla on this topic is the fact that the more convenient online buying gets (I can just ask the AI on my kitchen table now to get me some socks if I want to), the less people of any age will go to stores. Stores CLEARLY have to become something else, like a social gathering place vs stack-it-high-let-it-fly.

William Hogben

I think you could swap “Millennials” out on this list for any other mega-demo and nobody would be surprised by the results. Keep the store clean? Easy to navigate? Looks nice? This is a case of mistaken identity. These values aren’t for Millennials — they’re for all modern people.

Dan Raftery

I’m with Chris Peterson on this one. Age is not a factor for these attributes. And I’m with several other contributors in cautioning against stereotyping this or any cohort for physical retail. The first step is to know your customers. The second is to learn what they want. Your customers first, then your competitors’ customers.

Cathy Hotka

It’s not just Millennials, it’s everyone. People want a clean, focused, pleasing store experience. We’ve all visited stores where the music is too loud, the clothes are on the floor, and associates are distracted. This was acceptable in previous days, but there’s a new normal now.

Karen S. Herman

A tidy, organized shopping experience that is easy to navigate sounds like something every consumer would desire, not only Millennials. Our research at Gustie strongly indicates that Millennials are looking for consumer-centered brand experiences, with elevated in-store shopping opportunities that inform, entertain and build trust. The KITH store in Miami is one good example.

The fact that digital components like interactive touchscreens and videos were not included in this study, as Tom pointed out, is disappointing. Retailers have a real advantage with Millennials to incorporate digital components and move to a small footprint, as they redesign.

Craig Sundstrom

Uhmm … is there any reason to think Millennials want something different in store design from everyone else? (Except maybe arrows on the floor to help navigate when they’re looking down at their phones.)

Is there really a group of people who place no value in “tidiness” or “ease” or — all else being equal — “quality”?

Vahe Katros
Vahe Katros
2 years 4 months ago
“What you want and what you need, there’s the key.” I agree about the flaws related to the study. There are so many other research methods that get you to the unstated truth that leads to a hill worth occupying and defending — but — what I was surprised about was that “authenticity” was not mentioned. Probably because it lurks in the empty space, in the gut. But … the title took me down an interesting path — the question of what Millennial’s want. It reminded me of a song I listened to when I was a Millennial a song called “I Believe” (which makes me wonder why no one mentioned music!). Read the lyrics – listen to the song… “I Believe” R.E.M. When I was young and full of grace and spirited, a rattlesnake When I was young and fever fell my spirit, I will not tell You’re on your honor not to tell I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract Explain the change, the difference between What you want and what… Read more »
Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 4 months ago

This list we’re told is uniquely Millennial — but this is good broad advice for any retailer reaching anyone.

We also need to remember “your situation may vary.” There is always a place for the store that’s a treasure hunt — whether a Filene’s Basement, Costco, Dollar Store, or military surplus. And those stores can appeal to Millennials and all generations similar (especially given generally low incomes of Millennials). My millennial son loves to search for low price unusual things in crowded, messy stores.

So — great list. And, retailers need to focus on what they can uniquely offer and how to make that shopping experience as powerful as possible. This list may help. And it WILL be off-target for some retailers.

Ken Morris
For all the growth online shopping has enjoyed over the past five or so years, more than nine out of 10 purchases still take place in a physical store. The reason is that stores still exert a powerful draw on many shoppers. Millennials love the theater of shopping and the ability to touch, smell and feel. You don’t get the sensory part of shopping from online. Now that Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers, retailers need to adjust their store models to appeal to the expectations of Millennials. Stores need to be entertaining, fun and interactive. When I go to the mall, the store that is consistently busy is Apple. European retailers like Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Galeries Lafayette and Selfridges do a fabulous job of creating interactive and engaging themed campaigns and events that attract consumers to their stores. Retailers should take note of what works for these retailers and emulate what makes sense. Shopping is an experience, it is theater and the customers, associates and the supporting technology must perform as actors. Each has… Read more »
Dave Wendland

My answer may be different then others to this question. I believe Millennials (and today’s shoppers in general) DO NOT want what tired, lackluster retail experiences and product presentations that seem to be offered. Sure, the ideas in this article are relevant … and should be incorporated into any retail operation. However, brick-and-mortar retail of tomorrow better offer more!

"The key to every demographic is the same. Relevance. This means retailers need to continuously reinvent the store experience. "
"These values aren’t for Millennials — they’re for all modern people."
"Retailers have a real advantage with Millennials to incorporate digital components and move to a small footprint, as they redesign."

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