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Ask the Experts — Millennials and zeds are pushing retail to change

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By Georganne Bender
By Rich Kizer
Published: February 9, 2017
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Everywhere I look, I am seeing something about millenials. Will they really change how we conduct business?

Answer: In a word: yes. But it’s not just millennials that you need to think about; there’s another, younger generation coming right behind them.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. Born between 1980 and 1995, the millennial world goes 24/7. Ask a baby boomer what “WWW” means and they’ll say “World Wide Web.” Ask a millennial the same question and you’ll hear, “Whatever, Whenever, Wherever.” They enjoy an interactive online experience.

This means that your website must be interactive, not just a boring online brochure. Add project sheets, ideas, testimonials, lots of photos of finished projects, how-to videos, and more. And be prepared to develop an app in the near future. According to Flurry Analytics, in 2014 smartphone users spent 86 percent of their time on apps and only 14 percent on mobile webpages. Think about your usage: When did you last send a tweet from your desktop computer?

Millennials tell us in focus groups that they rely on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages. They’d much rather look online than call and be placed on hold—or be given the wrong information.

Texting is their favorite form of communication with friends and family, but not with you unless they opt-in first. For communications with their favorite retailers, email does the trick. Send an email blast every 10 to 15 days, and make sure they include more photos and less copy. Use big photos; customers should be able to buy based on your subject line alone. And if there are offers or coupons, they need to be re-deemable via cellphone; asking customers to print coupons is a big no-no. Be authentic and get to the point! In a recent survey, 41 percent of millennials said the main reason they abandoned content was that it was too long.

Generation Z: The zeds
In many ways, millennials and generation Z (born 1995 to 2010) are similar, but there are also huge differences. Millennials, for example, had to explore the internet using their parent’s desktop computer; zeds have always carried the internet around in their pockets. This is a generation that will enjoy a lifelong use of technology. Millennials are said to use three “screens” on a regular basis; zeds use five: a smartphone, television, laptop, desktop and iPod/iPad. Both gens are masters of the “second screen”: using another device to augment first-screen content. Think watching TV while on Instagram or updating your social medias while doing something else. Zeds are big multi-taskers.

They have had technology at their fingertips all of their lives, so it’s second nature to them. They look to the next big thing, which means you will have to come to their terms because they are not interested in yours. Your online content needs to be creative, relevant and fun or zeds will simply tune you out.

Texting and using apps like Snapchat have caused them to develop “eight-second filters”—they can take in tremendous amounts of information at one time, and lose interest just as fast. Even more so than millennials, zeds communicate in sound bites; long blocks of copy send them straight to the delete button.

Zeds knew how to swipe before they could stand. Have you seen the YouTube video “A magazine is an iPad that does not work”? It shows a toddler trying to open the pages of a magazine the same way she works an iPad. Screens have always been a part of her life, so much so that her father comments, “For my one-year-old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work. It will remain so her entire life. Steve Jobs has coded part of her OS [operating system].”

And you’re still using printed sales materials to sell to younger customers ...

Zeds will change everything —these are entitled kids who expect great service. It’s not in your best interest to respond to the parent if the kid asks you a question. And here’s another shocker: By 2020, zeds will account for 40 percent of all consumers. Currently, their average allowance is $16.90 per week; this translates to $44 billion a year.
Zeds aren’t just consumers; they’re curators who catalog their lives online. Social media is where they go to discover stores, brands and products—and they evaluate them, share them, and rate them.

So, if you want to attract millennials and zeds you need to be on Facebook and Instagram, and maybe even Snapchat. Share what’s happening at your store, take them behind the scenes and to trade shows. Ask questions about how they use the product you sell. Be creative! Regardless of age, your job is to build relationships, connect with customers, engage them in conversation, and influence where they shop.