Four Ideas for Selling to the Millennial Generation
Originally published: October 15, 2017
Updated: February 21, 2022
by George Maginnis
Say what you want about younger people’s sense of entitlement today, but the millennial generation’s road hasn’t been easy. For many, dispensing with burdensome student loan debt was a heavy lift and a long haul. Then came the Great Recession, which caused many to postpone the trappings of adulthood – starting families and homeownership. But now, the 40-somethings are a major force in the retail industry.
As this diverse, tech-savvy generation flexes its purchasing power, retailers need to understand how to start selling to the millennial generation.
Who are they and why are they unique?
The millennial generation was born between 1979 and 2000. According to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials make up the largest share of the adult population. Their numbers have overtaken both Generation X (1965 – 1980), and the baby boomers (1945 – 1965).
On average, millennials are better educated than the generations that preceded them. Close to 40% have bachelor’s degrees or higher.
They’re the largest part of the American workforce. As of 2017, there are more millennials working (56 million) than Generation Xers (53 million) and Baby Boomers (41 million).
As the first generation to grow up with the internet, technology is a central part of their lives. So, millennials are comfortable and capable when it comes to doing research before making a purchase.
A 2021 survey from home-buying web service Zillow says 40% of millennials are comfortable buying a home online. Further, 59% say they would be somewhat confident making an offer on a home following a virtual tour without ever seeing it in person.
Another survey by the American Community and American Housing says there are now 66 million millennials in the U.S. and they represent 37% of the total national home buying market.
So, if they’re buying homes at a greater rate than other generations, that means they’re also buying home improvement goods and services. That makes them a target audience for the home improvement industry. And access to product and merchant reviews makes these shoppers discerning and extremely well-informed.
Even with all the purchasing options available to them, millennials recognize and value a positive shopping experience. They respond well to service staff who understand their needs.
Four ways to get better at selling to millennials
1. An online option
The shopping process for millennials often begins with a web search. If a store has a website that gives detailed information about it and the products it sells, that’s great. If the site is mobile-friendly and allows the users to buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), even better.
Retailers focused on selling to the millennial generation have found that BOPIS does a great job of doing something they find vitally important — getting shoppers through the door. BOPIS is attractive to customers because it allows them to bypass the lines at the checkout counter and eliminates the potential wait and expense of having an item delivered.
Nearly half of the millennial generation surveyed by Retail Dive says they use BOPIS for more than 40% of their purchases. That’s good news for brick-and-mortar stores with omnichannel sales offerings.
Research from the Farnsworth Group shows a surprising 70% of the people that purchased using BOPIS made an additional purchase once inside the store. This makes the BOPIS option a win-win for both customers and retailers.
For BOPIS to be completely successful, you’ll need to have a clearly designated spot for customers to pick up their online purchases. Make it easy for customers to pay for any impulse buys by installing a point-of-sale terminal at the pickup location.
2. Be responsive
Millennials are above average do-it-yourselfers. They’re also self-reliant. Smartphones have made it possible for millennials to get answers in real-time to many questions they have about the projects they want to do.
A 2020 poll of 2,000 homeowners shows that about 81% of the millennial generation tackled a home improvement project that year. And 73% of them said that completing those projects gave them the confidence to try more.
So, when they visit hardware and LBM stores looking for advice, fast access to friendly, knowledgeable staff members that take the time to understand their needs is high on their list of priorities.
It’s not that millennials are impatient. Like most people, they value their time and want to make the most of it. With a little planning, this can work in the retailers’ favor.
Stores should provide signage or handouts that list all the products needed to complete a variety of do-it-yourself projects.
Not only will this satisfy their need for information delivered quickly, it will also open these customers up to add-on sales. By anticipating and satisfying their need for information about the projects they plan to undertake, you can make selling to the millennial generation easier and more profitable at the same time.
3.) Avoid the hard sell
A study by Elite Daily points out that millennials tend to be loyal customers. Before you can gain their loyalty, you must gain their trust.
Millennials want a thorough understanding of the product or group of products they are considering and how it suits their needs. When selling to the millennial generation, the role of salesperson needs to be more of an advisor or collaborator than a seller of goods and services.
Store staff should let them know they’re concerned about their needs by listening to the details of the project they want to do and asking additional questions if necessary. Make recommendations based on the information received.
If millennials feel they’re being steered toward something that’s not in their best interest, it will be perceived as inauthentic and they’ll likely take their business elsewhere. To prevent this from happening, spell out options, explain the benefits of each, and let them choose.
When catering to a group that values and uses social media regularly, keep in mind that the details of your interaction may be shared with others.
It pays for store staff to listen closely when selling to the millennial generation and show that they care about their needs more than the store’s bottom line. Taking good care of millennial shoppers takes care of the bottom line.
4. Get socially active
Even though millennials prefer to communicate via text messages, instant messages, or email, they really do want to know who they are dealing with.
Build and maintain a page on Facebook or another social media platform to provide millennials and all your customers with content that might be interesting.
Using social media as a platform to display pictures of stores, products and services that might be of interest to the millennial generation and shoppers in general is always a good idea. Make it a point to tell a story to educate or enlighten site visitors on a regular basis. If they find the content useful or amusing in some way, they are likely to share it with others.
Businesses that support charities or social causes are in vogue nowadays. Be sure to let customers know about it. Many millennials like doing business with a company that gives back to the community or supports a cause they can get behind.
Social media gives businesses a place to showcase positive reviews. When there is a post to a webpage praising a business, ownership should be quick to post a thank you to show appreciation.
Although the prospect of getting a negative review on social media sounds like a terrible thing to deal with, the way stores respond to an unhappy customer can do wonders for their reputation. A measured and thoughtful reply that shows a commitment to customer service and demonstrates an ability and willingness to address negative comments and work toward a solution.
When a conversation between a store and its customers is visible, it builds trust and adds to the store’s credibility. This is exactly the type of interaction millennials want to see.
After a slow start resulting from economic upheavals beyond their control, millennials are ready to take their place as the pacesetter in the broader consumer economy.
Their ability to access information quickly has made this group well informed and discriminating when it comes to making purchasing decisions.
Millennials value speed and convenience. Their ability to access information quickly to satisfy their curiosity has raised their expectations when it comes to making purchases. A strong web presence at a minimum, and buy online, pickup in-store option, whenever possible, will be required to engage this tech-savvy group.
Selling to the millennial generation requires a shift away from the standard sales approach to one of advice and collaboration. They’re happy to spend money once they believe that a business cares about their needs.
Millennials might have expectations that cause retailers to up their game. By making the effort to meet or exceed these expectations, retailers will create greater opportunities for themselves going forward.