How to build a retail brand that engages millenials
By Adil Wali , 29th Nov 2015

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.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Adil Wali. I became a Microsoft certified professional at age 14 and started my first web development company. That led to a career as a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and startup investor. I got my first “real job” at 33, and I’m now a FinTech executive with a passion for the markets.