What will it take to win back the storeless generation?
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?