Retail's pursuit of the Millennial Shopper - the exemplars keep on coming

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan September 16, 2018
Retailers want to reel in the Millennial shopper and his/her disposable income and that means reaching out digitally.

Millennials word
One of the most elusive, but eagerly pursued beasts is the Millennial Shopper. He or she is the creature seemingly most desired by retailers and many a digital transformation strategy is built (at least in large part) on the planks of mobile social in order to lure the Millennials in.

This can be seen across all retailer sectors on a weekly basis. Just recently Industry Leaders magazine pitched that Walmart is overhauling its business to catch the Millennial eye:

Two years after Walmart Inc. acquired it for $3.3 billion, Jet is getting a fancy makeover to woo millennial customers. A new shopping experience tailored to attract affluent, higher-income, urban millennial customers in urban areas, a group that has proven difficult for Walmart.

Writing about Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign, Black Enterprise observes:

By 2020, spending by millennials in the United States is projected to reach $1.4 trillion annually. That amount is more than double the $600 billion this consumer demographic is shelling out now each year, according to global tech and consulting giant Accenture. Simultaneously, millennials have eclipsed baby boomers as America’s largest generation, surpassing 83 million and making up more than a quarter of Americans, figures from the US Census Bureau show. The data provide compelling reasons why marketing to millennials is so crucial.

Even furniture stores aren’t immune, as Industry Leaders notes:

If you want to catch someone’s attention in the furniture industry, just say the word “Millennial.”

Followers of fashion

The fashion retail sector is, unsurprisingly, one of the most Millennial-obsessed, with brands focused entirely on tapping into specific age demographics, such as Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F). The company has had its problems of late and, as we’ve noted, has been embarked on a hefty digital transformation push.

For CEO Fran Horowitz, deploying digital tech is a crucial aspect of reaching out to the core audience for the retailer:

We continue to invest in innovation to ensure our digital capabilities are aligned with our customers’ needs. Earlier this month, we were the first specialty apparel retailer to launch Venmo as a payment option on our app. We know Venmo is an increasingly popular payment option among our Millennial and Gen Z customer base. This is a great example of putting the customer at the center of everything we do and innovating relentlessly to provide a seamless experience.

Creating that Millennial-friendly cutomer experience is a priority, which is being pursued via multiple means, from new omni-capable store formats through in-store use of handheld tech to increased personalization based on analytics:

We’re focused on better leveraging data analytics to align our assortment of customer preferences to improve merchandise pricing and allocation. While we’re still in the early stages of execution, we are encouraged by our progress to date as we evaluate a number of test and learn pilot programs underway.

We continue to optimize our marketing investments, including leveraging our growing loyalty program. We’re building on and fueling our marketing efforts with higher spend. In tandem with our test and learn approach, we’re working to ensure that spend is being directed where it can have the greatest impact and return.

We’re very pleased with the continued growth of our loyalty programs, with total member accounts across brands crossing the 20 million mark. This is particularly important because our loyalty club members continue to spend more and more often. Driving enrollment, expanding the membership and driving productivity for members are key priorities.

Our customer insights team is leveraging the data from these programs to help us drive engagement with our most valuable customers through exclusive product and experiences, such as gift with purchase offers and exclusive access to events.


Over at Guess, CEO Victor Herrero points to appealing to Millennial and Gen Z via engaged brand engagement through social media:

We are investing in video and live video, the preferred method of communication for the Millennial and Gen Z demographics and we are delivering that content through key social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Our engagement strategies are gaining real traction as evidenced by the significant 1.2 million Instagram follower increase, Guess has experienced thus far this year reaching 4 million followers globally. I am also very excited with our new partnership with TikTok, the video sharing application with 500 million users as we will be the first brand to partner with them...we remain very active on the digital front and constantly innovate.

It’s all paying off, he argues:

I think the relevancy of the brand has been always there and will be always there. I think at this moment, all these strategies that we put in place several or couple of years ago about the endorsement of celebrities, all the digital efforts that we are doing basically as well, the social media effort that we have been doing for the last couple of years, are really paying off.

He points to a collaboration with Generation, with its Farmers Market earlier this year as an example:

All these kind of things is in order to attract more and more of the Millennials, the Gen Z ...every time I go to the store, I really look at what type of customer do we have. And definitely, we have Gen Zs, we have the Millennials and the majority of those people, particularly in young areas or young demographics... are really the new generation that are really interested on our brand, whatever we are doing in terms of marketing activities.

But Herrero strikes a note of caution about becoming too Millennial-fixated:

We have several types of customers; We have Gen Z, we have Millennials, we have all the people that believe that we are a fashion option for them, all people that they want to be sexy and cool. I think it’s very good news for us, because whenever we go and visit the stores, whenever we go and see the people that are really visiting our e-commerce, it’s everyone. We cannot say that we have only one particular generation shopping in our stores or on our e-commerce or any other distribution channel, like wholesale.

Over at Vera Bradley, CEO Robert Wallstrom also talks up the breadth of potential customer base:

From the demographic standpoint it's still a very broad customer base. So, we've always really attracted a very broad consumer, we're continuing to see a very broad consumer coming in.

But of late, the firm has looked to digital investment to become more effective at targetting specific demographics, he notes:

Over the last few years retail has been going through a very disruptive cycle and the industry has changed forever. Technology has revolutionized retail, the e-commerce channel has become the primary growth engine, marketing has transformed to a digital first strategy, the physical store has moved from a place-of-purchase to a place-of-brand experience and Artificial Intelligence is becoming the core engine to drive change faster than previously imagined.

For its part, Vera Bradley is another retailer that’s tapped into social marketing to lure a younger demographic:

In the marketing area we continued to increase brand awareness with our digital first strategy. Our marketing is focused on high quality placement and segmented and targeted digital efforts with much more emphasis on full price offerings and less on clearance and sale. We have entered into several successful social media collaboration's with our licensed partners and influencers like Popsugar.

As a key part of our marketing and social media engagement plans we are continuing our community and charitable initiatives with a particular focus on women and children...we are wrapping up our Blessings in a Backpack program, which is providing 25,000 at risk children with the tools they need for a successful school year. Fund Backpack Giveaway events have been hosted by well known personalities in several cities including Olympic Gymnast Sean Johnson in Chicago and country music star Jason Aldean and his wife Brittany in Nashville with more to come. It is great to see the impact this program has on children, families, schools and even on entire communities. These events have garnered a record amount of social engagement and the media coverage for us around the country.

My take

I am minded of Lewis Carroll and The Hunting of the Snark when I read about so many retailers chasing their tails after the Millennial. As I observed about the UK’s Debenhams digital approach, there’s a danger of a lot of this being seen as ‘dad dancing’ as brands pivot on the idea that being seen to be associated with a ‘cool’ celeb is what it takes to pull in the younger buyer. In fact, the rules of the game are more basic than that - people shop with brands they trust who make products that they want to buy. Nike’s current Kaepernick campaign is very clever, but ultimately people buy from the firm because they like their sneakers.

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