• How to build a retail brand that engages millenials

    Engaging millennials is one of the most compelling and complex topics of modern retail.  I’m often in conversations where people talk about how hard it is to appeal to millennials, and how it’s even harder to keep millennials as customers over the long-term.  

    Unlocking the millennial mystery has clear ROI, and can help brands better engage their existing customers and, perhaps, acquire new ones.  It’s a particularly interesting topic to me, as a millennial myself and someone who thinks a lot about building great commerce brands.

    Based on my experience in the world of commerce, I’ve seen a couple interesting characteristics emerge as it pertains to us millennials.

    Millennials are very discerning customers.

    Millennials grew up in the information age and are digital natives.  We’re engaged across forms of social media and are very used to consuming many streams of information simultaneously.  As such, we’re no strangers to noise.  Millennials see advertisements all over the web and are often pushed product imagery wherever we are.  We’re used to ignoring it.  In order to stand out, products need to be fundamentally compelling or unique.  Millennials are hard to please as customers because we buy online all the time.  We’ve seen and experienced wonderful customer service, and we know what mediocre looks like.

    Millennials have excellent bullshit detectors.

    Precisely because Millennials are exposed to so much information, we’re used to seeing a lot of bullshit on the internet.  Because we’re so at-home on the internet and on mobile, we have a little bit of sixth-sense when it comes to scammy content and sites.  We know when sites are not worth our time.  If the bullshit is repackaged, then millennials have likely already seen it before.

    Millennials have short attention spans.

    Again, because we’re used to consuming multiple streams of information at once, we get bored easily.  Very easily.  We don’t often read articles to the end.  We have a hard time watching video clips that are longer than a few minutes.  We have little patience for filler.  So, when you hit us with content, make sure it’s good.  And keep it short and to the point.

    Keeping the above characteristics in mind empowers retailers to rethink how they approach millennials.  There are a couple areas that retailers need to pay particularly close attention to in order to be successful in building lasting relationships with millennials.

    Merchandising evolves into storytelling.

    Your brand is not just about curation anymore.  That’s the price of admission.  You need to tell a story that resonates with the millennial customer.  What’s truly special about your brand?  What passion was brought to the inception and development of your product, and why is it the best in the world at its particular function?  Your humanity matters here.  What’s your story as a founder or leader of the company?  How did you get here?  What were the trials and tribulations you faced in building your brand?  What went wrong along the way?

    Customer service evolves into relationship-building.

    The millennial customer is so often exposed to empty superficial interactions that you have an opportunity to differentiate on relationships.  Will someone pick up the phone when they call?  Will that person actually know their name?  When they get live chat or email customer service, will the representative actually be useful and capable?  Or just someone keeping a seat warm?  When you reach out with updates and messaging, is it going to be the same old email spam, or will the content and information be valuable and useful?

    Online retail evolves into omnichannel selling.

    Millennials know how easy it is to setup a website.  And how easy it is to make it reasonably good-looking.  Just because you have a website doesn’t give you instant credibility with us.  So, you need to do more.  Do you have a pop-up shop in my area where I can actually meet members of your team?  Do you have events for customers and prospective customers?  Do you sell on other digital channels and marketplaces in addition to your website?  If so, then millennials have a clearer sense of your legitimacy as a retailer or brand.

  • eCommerce Buy Buttons and True Social Commerce

    For many years, we’ve talked about the rise of ‘social commerce.’  People have predicted that our social networks would curate products for us and that the lines between content, community, and commerce would blur and eventually become unrecognizable.

    While on one hand that progression has marched along, on the other, it has not progressed in the ways that many of us (especially me) expected.  eCommerce sites have remained primarily commerce-focused.  And social networks have continued to focus on eye-catching content that people mostly read/watch/listen to.

    We’re finally turning a corner on this trend, and it’s because the social networks themselves are starting to push users in this direction.  This may end up being the natural form of social commerce that the market has been waiting for.

    The change is happening in the form of ‘Buy buttons’ that enable users to purchase products without ever leaving the network.  These buy buttons are proliferating throughout the social web, and fast.  Each of the major players has either launched or is testing them actively.

    Let’s take a quick look at what’s out there:

    Twitter – Already out in the wild. 


    With the help of Stripe’s Relay, Twitter has launched Buy Now buttons that can be embedded directly within tweets.  This functionality uses Stripe’s payment technology to process the transaction and send orders to the retailer.  Twitter has not yet released any major numbers associated with the success or traction of these buttons.

    Pinterest – Buyable pins live and seemingly growing quickly.


    Pinterest first previewed that Buy Buttons were coming back in June of 2015.  They went live with the concept soon after, and announced that 60 million Buyable Pins were available by August of 2015.  Pinterest also stood up a page that outlines the buyable pin functionality.

    Instagram – Promising, but not yet live. 


    Instagram, being the go-to destination that it is for trending fashion and beauty, is well-positioned to launch a buy button.  Their blog post on the topic was a little more broadly-focused than the others, talking about ad-units that enabled direct action of multiple types (including signing up on a website or downloading an app.)

    Google – Announced, but not yet broadly available.

    Purchase on Google

    Given it’s position as the much of the world’s primary search destination, Google is perhaps the most interestingly positioned player in the whole bunch.  It recently announced Purchases on Google in a blog post that talked about other retailer-focused enhancements.  What’s interesting here is that Google is alluding to integration with Google wallet, where users may already be storing payment methods.

    Facebook – Announced and in testing.  


    Facebook announced that it was testing buy buttons for the first time back in 2014.  Things were relatively quiet until an October 2015 blog post drove more clarity about its intent to power shopping on Facebook.  It appears as though the intent is enable shoppers to checkout without leaving Facebook.  Even more interesting is the addition of the shop section on Facebook Pages for businesses.

    These buy buttons can have a lot of implications on commerce, especially mobile commerce, in the next 2 years.  The biggest hurdle is going to be overcoming the differences in mental-modes that people have when browsing the web.

    Many of us are in a content consumption mode when browsing social media and looking for content.  Separately, we are in shopping mode when we are searching for specific products to buy.  Breaking down this mental barrier, and getting content consumers more used to the idea of ‘switching lanes’ from consuming content to buying is going to be a challenge.  With that said, it seems like only a matter of time before behavior is changed and users adapt.

    Stay tuned for more analysis on this topic in the weeks to come!