How Millennials Are Changing Their Relationship To Retail
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How Millennials Are Changing Their Relationship To Retail

June 23, 2016

John Wise

Digitally savvy and highly entrepreneurial, the Millennial generation departs from the larger consumer base in several key ways.

Consumers of Generation X age and older grew up as relatively passive shoppers, able to do little more than recommend a product to a handful of friends, vent to a salesperson or write a letter to corporate headquarters. But Millennials have a very different relationship with brands and companies. As mass-consumption natives, they see themselves as  collaborators and co-marketers instead of ‘the audience’ or ‘the target.’ They’re ready to champion their favorite brands online – and equally willing to criticize those with subpar products or ethics. Digitally savvy and highly entrepreneurial, the Millennial generation departs from the larger consumer base in a few key ways:


They want you to reflect their values.

According to a recent Pew Research study, fifty-five percent of Millennials’ believe churches and other religious organizations have a positive impact in the U.S. (Seventy-three percent thought so in 2010). Indeed, more than one third of Millennials are not affiliated with any faith. So they look to brands instead to  represent their values, with around 81 percent of them expecting brands to be responsible global citizens.  A 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey revealed that 87 percent of this demographic don’t consider a company successful on financial merit alone, but want evidence of corporate social responsibility as well.

Millennials are loyal supporters of companies with strong reputations for CSR. Toms, which sells shoes, sunglasses and apparel, has been a hit because of its wide-reaching commitment to charitable causes via the One to One Campaign. Cuyana, which sells high quality women’s basics and promotes a simpler lifestyle, is also popular with Millennials. Through its “Lean Closet” initiative, Cuyana offers consumers the chance to donate clothes to women in need. Customers are offered a $10 credit towards their next purchase for every donation they make.


They crave simplicity.

According to Accenture, spending by Millennials will grow to $1.4 trillion annually by 2020. But their spending mentality is selective; they have access to a vast range of goods but are highly conscious of the impact of their consumption. The mindset has shifted from ‘one of everything’ to ‘only the essentials’ – and they want to know where those essentials were made, by whom and with what materials.


They have higher expectations for customized, seamless service.

Just as there has been a shift from material to experiential spending across generations, the experiential part of the shopping experience has become increasingly important for Millennials. Mens clothing retailer Bonobos, which offers a personalized shopping experience in a showroom setting, has struck a chord with a younger crowd turned off by the generic, impersonal process of shopping at traditional brick and mortar retailers like the Gap.


They expect you to listen. And activate, quickly.

Millennials love to challenge brands– and they know how to do it well. They’ll keep up the pressure on a company until it amends a problem in a tangible and authentic way. And if they’re frustrated by the slow pace of change, they won’t hesitate to disrupt the status quo and start their own company. Having grown up in the era of Shark Tank & Facebook millionaires, they are natural entrepreneurs with the information, tools and confidence to do so.

The attitude of the hip new health insurance company Oscar, which aims to be transparent and unbureaucratic, sums up Millennial attitudes perfectly. Its website states: “We wanted a better healthcare company. So we built one.”


Brands take note: Millennials don’t want a story dictated to them – they want to be part of an evolving, authentic narrative that goes beyond simple marketing and branding.


Interested in learning more about the latest trends in millennial retail? Download our e-book to discover the 10 key shifts in millennial shopping behavior. 



John Wise

Vice President, Cultural Insights & Brand Strategy

John leads the Cultural Insights team at Kelton, a Material Company, bringing a fresh and exploratory dimension to any project he...

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