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12 Ways Millennials Are Ruining Brick-and-Mortar for Us All

Millennials are notorious for turning just about every established structure on its side. Whether that’s a dubious honor or not, though, depends on who you ask. Baby boomers and Gen-Xers certainly have their own opinions on the generation that’s now over 75 million Americans strong. They often color millennials with words like “lazy” and “entitled,” and blame them for the disappearance of their generation’s favorite products and brands. In fact, the stalled growth of everything from paper napkins to fabric softener to cereal has been attributed to millennials.

The notion that the younger generation is maliciously shuttering legacy brands is inaccurate, however. It’s not that millennials are against consumerism or shopping — they just aren’t interested in brick-and-mortar stores. GOBankingRates took a deeper look at the generation’s spending habits and interviewed small business retailers who weighed in on how millennials are changing the retail space.

Millennials Aren't a Mall Generation

There was a time when malls were the cornerstone of American culture. As town centers of socialization and commerce, they were where teenagers not only congregated with friends but found employment, working at clothing stores, fast-food restaurants and kiosks. Today, however, the American mall is dying. Mall vacancies are at a seven-year high, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

What the Experts Say

Online shopping isn’t necessarily the silver bullet that caused the shopping mall slump. A marked shift in shopper preferences shows that consumers yearn for more than what the traditional anchor stores have to offer. Commercial retail developer Rick Caruso, the man behind The Grove, Los Angeles’ popular outdoor shopping plaza, dispelled the myth that millennials are killing off the retail industry. He told Forbes, “The indoor mall is an anachronism that is going to continue to fail because it is disconnected to how people want to live their lives.”

Millennials Are the First Tech-Savvy Generation

That said, technology does play a role in the pull away from brick-and-mortar stores. Most millennials are digital natives — they grew up with technology at their fingertips — and technology has only become faster, more accessible and embedded in everyday life. Unsurprisingly, the generation that works, communicates and documents their lives online, shops online, too.

What the Experts Say

Rachel Goodlad, owner of Moxie’s Outlet in Texas and a millennial herself, described a shift in her clientele’s buying preferences from in-person to online. “I have noticed millennials are more comfortable buying through their computer and phone than finding the time to come into the store,” she said, adding that the majority of her sales are through the store’s Facebook and Poshmark accounts. Goodlad’s online sales stream has also changed her employees’ job functions. She said, “They were used to manning the store, but now spend almost all of their time shipping packages versus helping customers in person.”

Millennials Prefer Sustainable, Locally-Sourced Brands — Many of Which Are Online

A millennial’s wallet is metaphorically connected to their heart. By and large, millennials are a generation of idealists who leverage their massive collective spending power to support companies that uphold humanistic qualities like moral fiber, care, credibility and environmental consciousness. The social connection is so paramount that millennials are the generation most inclined to spend more money for a product that contains environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients, organic or natural ingredients or has social responsibility claims, according to a Neilsen consumer report.

What the Experts Say

Andy LaPointe, owner of Traverse Bay Farms, runs two retail stores in Michigan. LaPointe told GOBankingRates that his products are in “high-demand among millennial shoppers” who delight in buying his farm’s award-winning salsa, jam, jelly and cherry juice concentrate directly from the locally-grown source. “One of the biggest issues I experience every day is millennials want to know the products they are buying are environmentally friendly and locally responsible,” LaPointe said.

Bethany Babcock, CEO and founder of Foresite Commercial Real Estate, is a millennial who sees the trend of national companies failing to capture the attention of millennials. Babcock cited the main reason for retail’s spiral is that “certain companies have failed to make a connection with this demographic’s outlook and preferences, but it means good news for local brands that account for a significant and staggering percentage of store openings.”

Millennial Minimalism Isn't Just a Movement — It's a Lifestyle

Airbnb and Rent the Runway are just two of the millennial-founded, billion-dollar companies leading the peer-to-peer sharing economy. This generation prefers to be asset-light rather than weighed down by possessions — access, not ownership. Online marketplaces exist for consumers to rent, trade and share everything from clothing, automobiles, apartments, pet sitting, bikes and even Wi-Fi to free up space in their homes and wallets.

What the Experts Say

The fancy-free, nomadic millennial is a strong characterization, but millennials are decidedly different from previous generations. Influenced by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, better known as The Minimalists, and Japanese author and lifestyle guru Marie Kondo, millennials are inspired to declutter their homes and surround themselves with objects that truly add value to their spaces. They’ve rejected the idea that sentiment and memory can only be associated with physical objects.

“Millennials are not collectors, not accumulators, and have no interest in whatever mom and dad have spent their lives assembling,” said Mike Rivkin from Antique Galleries of Palm Springs.


Experiences Are Valued Over 'Stuff'

It’s not just minimalism — millennials derive joy and happiness from a vacation or a concert rather than a physical object. Eschewing accumulation for exploration is one of the generation’s hallmarks. After all, kayaking through rapids or dining in any given city’s hottest restaurant is what can best be shared through social media.

What the Experts Say

The nonplussed feeling millennials have towards material possessions presents a challenge to retailers whose survival hinges on creating an experience for shoppers. “Brick-and-mortar shopping today needs to be a recreational experience,” said Rivkin.

He explained how his gallery is drawing in the generation that “wants to live small, travel light and spend their money on experiences rather than objects.” Antique Galleries has adopted simple tweaks to woo shoppers. “Food and drink are always available and places to sit are comfortable and abundant. Conveniences such as free and accessible parking, delivery services and installment programs are critical,” said Rivkin.

Millennials Don't Have Deep Pockets

While the U.S. economy has bounced back from 2008’s financial crisis, the millennial generation isn’t as fortunate and is still paying a price for coming of age during a recession. As a product of the economy, millennials were forced to delay their entrance into the workforce and still haven’t made up for lost time. And despite being the most educated generation, the financial struggles faced by millennials might have positioned the generation to be worse off than prior generations, according to a report published by the Federal Reserve.

What the Experts Say

The costs of healthcare, housing and education have outpaced inflation, and millennials are bearing the brunt. Given the financial obstacles of less income and more debt, it’s more expensive to come of age today than it was a generation or two ago, according to the same Federal Reserve Report.

Millennials Value Convenience

The generation that grew up during the era of the internet is conditioned to receive information at lightning speed. After two decades of internet connectivity, that conditioned response has lent itself to just about everything. Convenience extends beyond reasonable business hours of a commutable store for millennials. True convenience is an expectation of delivered on-demand goods and services.

What the Experts Say

With careers, parenthood and social lives competing for their time, millennials digitally outsource everything they can. Joanna Jozwik Serra, co-owner of Birdy Boutique, an online children’s clothing boutique, said, “There is nothing more convenient or tempting than shopping online versus dragging kids through stores — even for groceries!”

Beverly Friedmann, a millennial who works as a content manager, added, “Many millennials no longer seem interested in patronizing local brick-and-mortar stores when they could easily order the same products off of an app, saving time and any perceived ‘hassles.'”

Millennials Are Fickle Shoppers

The idea of brand loyalty means nothing to a millennial. A new, innovative brand — or simply a shiny product appearance — will lure in a millennial shopper over a legacy brand with a dulled reputation.

What the Experts Say

Katherine Cullen, director of retail and consumer insights for National Retail Federation, said that customer service is actually more important than brand loyalty to millennials. “… Millennials are very concerned about good customer service and are twice as likely to back out of a purchase for lack of it,” she wrote in a press release. “For millennials, service ranks ahead of convenience, selection and loyalty programs.”

Millennials Prefer Instant Gratification

To entice customers inside, brick-and-mortar retailers have to not only compete with other stores but contend with variables outside of their control, like traffic and inclement weather. For millennials, the choice between staying in their pajamas and ordering something in one click vs. venturing out into the rain for the same or similar product is a no-brainer. Traditional stores don’t stand a chance against e-commerce behemoths like Amazon or Walmart that offer instant gratification.

What the Experts Say

It’s unreasonable to expect mom-and-pop retailers to perform against e-commerce powerhouses. Nicholas Allen, founding partner at Sublime Dzine Digital Design and millennial said, “The demand for ‘instant gratification’ or at least the immediacy of information to satisfy the desire is most certainly changing the entire business atmosphere.”

A potential solution is for brick-and-mortars to create pleasant, inviting and organized environments that are conducive for quick trips as well as browsing

Millenials Are Obsessed With Social Media

Almost 60% of American millennials are active on Instagram. The selfie culture is obsessed with aesthetics and looks at every location and destination as a potential backdrop for their next social media post. Millennials look at routine shopping trips the same way. To a curation-minded millennial, a traditional brick-and-mortar with racks of clothing isn’t eye-catching enough. Interactive and visually stunning displays that give millennials something to photograph will keep them loyal shoppers.

What the Experts Say

Rivkin conceded that his business is “not one usually associated with millennials” but added that “it’s doing fine.” He explained that the gallery is a visual wonderland of oddities. “We offer a range of unique items that don’t sell very fast but add to the enchantment of the shopping experience. Past such objects include a giant T-Rex fiberglass head, silver napkin rings from the Queen’s yacht Britannia and a rotating disco ball.” He also draws in millennial shoppers through social media. “We maintain a big social presence, clean environment, good lighting and careful curation of what is offered for sale.”

Traditional Brick-and-Mortars Aren't Thrilling Millennials

Much to the public’s confoundment, Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company, made a play for the brick-and-mortar space in 2015. The company that started as an online-only bookstore built a physical bookstore. Today Amazon has 19 bookstores in the U.S. and three other stores that sell Amazon products and branded merchandise with locations across the country. What Amazon has done differently from traditional brick-and-mortars, however, is integrate technology and customer reviews into the customer experience.

What the Experts Say

Daniel Robbins, a millennial and owner of Orange County, California-based spa OC Facial Center, underscored the idea that millennials are visual creatures. He said, “Millennials want to shop somewhere that feels like it is 2019. Many retailers, especially those that closed recently, never adapted [by] changing the decor or branding, and that is something we look for.”

Millennials Live and Die by Reviews

Millennials are a tightly networked bunch. In their lifetime, the internet has bridged distances and forged relationships that might not have been possible in previous years. To that end, millennials place emphasis on the opinions of their millennial brethren to guide them through the crowded consumer landscape. Categorically distrusting of company-paid advertisements, millennials seek the authenticity of product reviews and word-of-mouth endorsements that are typically found on social media.

What the Experts Say

Tami Rose, a small business owner, finds that “Millennials are … used to big data offering them custom online experiences and they crave the comfort of that kind of interaction offline, too.” Added emphasis on sharing their purchases with their broader social media network is a millennial consumer trait. It’s not merely enough for a brand to have an active social media presence for advertising, successful brands must also engage and connect with customers on social media.

A Change Might Be Coming

Millennials aren’t the cause of the retail apocalypse, but their preferences shine a spotlight on legacy brands that are failing to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Survival for retailers means becoming more nimble, creative and adjusting sales strategies.

Fledgling retailers should know that trends are only that — trends — and nothing is permanent. In fact, Gen Z, the generation at the heels of millennials, is poised to upend millennial preferences and already showing a penchant for shopping at the mall and fast-fashion retailers.

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This article originally appeared on 12 Ways Millennials Are Ruining Brick-and-Mortar for Us All