Millennials & the physical store
friends or foes?

05 June 2019

Millennials and the physical store: friends or foes?

“Generation Y lives in an entirely digital world”, “young people want it all, and they want it now, and they don’t have the patience to visit a store”, “Millennials have no real sense of loyalty to a particular brand or company”... There has been a real surge in publications claiming that the younger generation is falling out of love with physical retail over the past few months.

But what is the reality of the situation? Who even are these Millennials? Are they simply fuelling other people’s expectations of them? Do they really behave as people would have us believe?

They say that the Millennials are those born between 1978 and 1996, or between 1980 and 1999, or even between 1982 and 2000. They say that they are materialistic but that they value experience over ownership. They say that they are individualistic but that they support the circular and solidarity economies. They say that they are immature but that they are sensitive to social and environmental issues. They say that they are impatient but that they favour public transport over taking the car, for example. On the basis of such descriptions, which are contradictory to say the least, it would appear that what we have here is the most paradoxical generation that the world has ever known.


A hyperconnected customer

From vegans, locavores and coworking fans to irresponsible, narcissistic individuals who are addicted to social networks, ‘Generation Y’ is fascinatingly evasive, volatile and baffling. Not to mention somewhat concerning. After all, whilst many of the behaviours attributed to Millennials are the result of a series of stereotypes linked to age on the one hand (after all, aren’t egocentricity, impatience and lack of concern more to do with the privilege of youth rather than signs of belonging to a particular generation?), and to a huge over-generalisation based on the emergence of new lifestyles and consumption habits in major cities on the other hand, there is, however, one behaviour that nobody seems to be challenging, that being hyperconnectivity. This hyperconnectivity is awakening the greatest fears among experts and business professionals alike; indeed, what if this hyperconnectivity, which many associate with a tendency to prefer ‘all things digital’, were to lead to the ultimate death of the physical store as we currently know it in the near future? This fear is certainly not unjustified, since 42% of young Europeans themselves estimate that “all purchases will be made online and there will no longer be any physical stores” in 10 years’ time.


Visiting a store to save time

Nevertheless, 81% of these Millennials, the very people who are predicting the imminent demise of bricks and mortar, claim to be happy when visiting stores. In the United States, over half of all Generation Y consumers make in-store purchases (excluding local grocery stores and convenience stores) at least once a week, as opposed to only 44% of the previous Generation X.

So why do these young people, as ‘impatient’ and as ‘connected’ as they are, go to the trouble of visiting physical stores on a regular basis when they could just do all their shopping online? Well that’s just it, the main benefit of the physical sales outlet where two-thirds of them are concerned is that they don’t have to wait for their goods to be delivered. In other words, as far as they’re concerned, visiting a store helps them save time. But that’s not all – the majority of young Americans also claim that they go shopping because they enjoy the experience. The same is true when it comes to Europeans, 61% of whom frequent places that offer an experience, first and foremost. Some European Millennials (66%) also and more importantly fear that “there will be less of a human dimension” to trade in the future.


Just another customer, but a customer like no other

What does it matter which generation they belong to, at the end of the day? What does it matter what name you give them? What does it matter what type of consumer you wish to associate them with? Millennials are just like the rest of us. Just like the individual consom’acteurs® (‘consum’actors’) that we are - multifaceted customers who need to be satisfied on a daily basis, by listening to their needs and by creating a connection with them, by anticipating their expectations, as paradoxical as they might seem, by saving them time, by giving them the right product at the right time and by offering them unique and special experiences. By (re)establishing retail as a platform for interaction between retailers and customers. By (re)establishing retail as a place for people to come together.


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