Liu Zhang

Brown Shoe Company Corporate Fellow

Olin Business School: Business Administration | MBA


Cohort 2011


Graduated 2013

Partner University:

Fudan University

Scholar Highlights

How to Attract a Millennial Shopper

Have you ever shopped online? If yes, and your birth date was between the latter part of the 1970s and the early 2000s, congratulations! You are a Millennial Shopper and one of the target customers omni-channel retailers are keen on studying. Since you are probably familiar with both online shopping and store shopping but have different shopping behaviors under these two scenarios, you will pose some challenges for the omni-channel retailers searching to reach you through all of its available channels, from e-shops, to mobile apps, to social network sites and even traditional physical stores.

Not all the Millennial Shoppers behave the same when they do their online shopping: there are (1) the avid shoppers, (2) the browsers and (3) the purposeful shoppers. Avid shoppers browse shopping websites almost every day, and purchase frequently, behaving in a manner somewhat akin to the “shopaholic.” For these consumers, omni-channel retailers need to constantly reinvent themselves, creating new products and promotions to keep the avid shopper’s attention.

Browsers, on the other hand, visit e-stores from a few times per week to a few times per month, but do not purchase as frequently as avid shoppers. Thus a user-friendly website or app is more effective and useful in terms of keeping their attention. Purposeful shoppers only buy a specific item when they need it and so do not shop on impulse or treat shopping as a hobby. To this demographic, omni-channel retailers need to communicate specific information, such as, conveying for example the notion that whatever that shopper’s purpose may be, they are the store to go to, using slogans such as “We have what you need, when you need it.”

But these three types of Millennial Shoppers do share some common characteristics: their research usually starts online, so online resources must be up-to-date and provide a strong positive first impression;

they are fickle, so if ordering is not convenient or the presentation is unhelpful, they will go elsewhere.

They are also considerably swayed by friends, family and the online community’s opinions about retailers, websites and brands. Omni-channel retailers have found that they also want the advertising to draw them in — the idea of “the chase” is what makes their shopping experience more fun. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they are not brand loyal, so an isolated poor presentation of a brand can be fatal. They are, however, more likely to be product or retailer loyal. For example, a customer may always purchase jeans in the GAP because he enjoys the GAP retail environment, and he is able to find a brand of jeans there he likes, but that does not necessarily generate a desire to purchase other GAP brands.

A diagram to illustrate the Millennial Shopper’s process may be helpful. Note the image on the left, which shows the process of a Millennial shopping for a pair of new shoes — in this scenario, the budget is relatively low and time is short. Following the chart, Millennials start their research online, then compare several websites to narrow their choices, send links to friends to collect feedback, decide which pair is more stylish and which color most attractive. After that, they may check the online customer reviews, or even visit the physical store to try them on. At the same time, they evaluate the deal opportunity to decide whether to buy it in the store or online. Overall, however, most of these steps will be completed online.

The storyboard on the left addresses the Millennial’s process of purchasing a luxury watch over a longer time period. In this context, in-store and online steps will likely be more equally divided. The research on the product and style will be done online and consulting with the online community, through venues such as Pinterest, will also likely be involved. Once the evaluation process starts, however, Millennials more often prefer to visit the physical stores to physically check the details of the product. In this context, the Millennial Shopper — particularly the purposeful shopper — will compare the deal opportunity and the quality of customer service to decide where to buy.

Omni-channel retailers are trying to adjust their strategies to influence these Millennial shopping processes. Kate Spade is a good example of a company that balances its efforts between traditional store channels and e-channels. While it has a lot of physical stores in the world, and almost all major department stores carry its products, it also occasionally sets up some pop-up stores to attract the less fashion-attuned to some of its fashion events. For e-channels, Kate Spade also has some good practices: its e-shop has products exclusively available online, e-giftcards for purchase and the buttons for social media shortcuts stand out on every webpage. Kate Spade also presents itself well on popular social media such as YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Retailers are also putting more and more attention on the key part of customers’ online shopping experience — the product view. Most of the omni-channel retailers now use 360° pictures or even short videos to show the product more fully. These retailers are also increasingly making use of “Quick View,” which allows shoppers to check details such as available colors, sizes and alternate views of certain products without too many additional clicks, zooms or new pages. Facing the fickle Millennial Shoppers, web designers realize fewer clicks often equates to more commerce.

The storyboard above also shows that Millennial Shoppers pay considerable attention to customer reviews. Omni-channel retailers therefore cannot treat their design of this aspect lightly either and have accordingly created search filters that allow for sorted results as well as photo reviews that show, for example, shoes or clothes being put on, which can in turn help shoppers better understand how these items look and work in action.

Overall, for attracting their target customers — omni-channel retailers have understood that they must make the online shopping experience as clean and hassle-free as possible,

and so they have worked to improve visibility and placement of social media buttons and added color swatches to unify the visuals across all of their retail channels. Though Millennial Shoppers may share some characteristics and a similar process, it still must be remembered that one size does not fit all. Omni-channel retailers must therefore be vigilant in customizing their pitches to each Millennial shopping demographic.

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