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Is Having Millenial Customer A Challenge?

You might have watched Simon Sinek’s view on Millennials in the Workplace – it’s caused quite a stir! Sinek argues that there are 4 characteristics that have contributed to what other commentators call the “entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused and lazy” Millennial generation which already outnumbers the Baby Boomers in the U.S. workforce. There’s been much debate about how businesses need to adapt to attract and retain Millennial customers, and Millennial employees. Here’s our take on Sinek’s 4 characteristics, and what they mean for retailers.

1. Parenting

“The failure of parents to properly prepare their children for the realities of the business world, leading to an inability to cope with failure and creating an epidemic of low self-esteem.”

Ok, well I’m not sure how many parents have openly prepared their offspring for a future career in retail, but anyone thinking about it should certainly advise them to develop a tougher skin! Retail over the last decade has had to weather severe storms, and there is undoubtedly more pain and more losses to come on the high street as the realities of oversupply of floor space, the shift to omnichannel, the increase in robotics, the associated risk of reduced employment opportunities, and the emerging dominance of new business models gain traction. New entrants to retail need to embrace its dynamism and look for opportunities to shake things up, and their employers should reward them for it.

2. Technology

“The pervasiveness of mobile technologies and social media leading to addiction, tribe-like behaviour, and potential negative consequences for adolescents moving into the workforce where relationships need to be established on a human basis.”

Anyone who takes public transport, spends time in coffee shops or walks down a high street will understand that the emerging workforce are surgically attached to their mobile devices. Mobile and social are deeply woven into the day-to-day lives of Millennials. And while technology is an awesome enabler, people work with, buy from, trust, and ultimately rely on people. Relationships are critical in retail and we need to do more to help this generation to develop the relationship building skills that will help them survive in an increasingly competitive environment.

While technology is an awesome enabler, people work with, buy from, trust, and rely on people.

Recent surveys also demonstrate that shoppers have increasingly adopted a “mobile first” approach, and retailers who have failed to optimise for mobile are falling behind the pack. But is there a risk here that the experience will become commoditised? Smart retailers like Net-a-Porter and Rapha have both embraced mobile but also looked to the tangible elements of the offer – superior delivery, packaging, returns policies and customer service – to differentiate themselves. Retailers must harness their Millennials’ mobile addiction by consulting them when developing these new propositions.

3. Impatience

“The always-on world where anything you want is pretty much available at the touch of a button, except satisfaction in your job and meaningful relationships – these are long and uncomfortable journeys which require hard work and sacrifice to reap downstream rewards.”

Retail has always been a 24×7 operation behind the scenes, it’s just now the customers’ expectations are that they too can be serviced around the clock. Delivery windows are now measured in minutes rather than days and stock-outs met with incredulity. However, a career in retail is not immediate – it takes years to develop. There is plenty to be said about starting from the shop floor and learning about the industry at the coal face. Many successful retail bosses have trodden this path, and more should spend time exploring how their customers experience a brand across all channels.

It’s not just the financial data that’s important – listening to customer service calls or reading online feedback provides plenty of important cues for what is, and isn’t working. The emerging retail workforce should embrace opportunities to work across different functions and learn the ropes – secondments to distribution centres, experience in store operations and time spent at the hard end of project delivery are all fantastic learning experiences.

4. Environment

“Today’s corporate environments often emphasise short-term financial gains over long-term sustainable growth for both the business and the employee, and a lack of good leadership is blamed as a root cause.”

So, what can we do to address the environmental factors which threaten the industry? How can we provide strong leadership and support long-term growth in an industry which knows about the pressure of short-term financial impacts more than any other?

This week has already seen the start of the next wave of price wars in grocery, no doubt further eroding margins for the category with more set to come in 2017 as Brexit-related currency impacts bite. What will the knock-on effect be and who will survive? Brave retailers will be prepared to invest in the difficult options – overhauling legacy business models and aging technologies, and making tough choices regarding where to place their bets. Strong leadership and mentoring for your Millennial workforce will pay dividends on the battlefield.

“Strong leadership & mentoring for your Millennial workforce will pay dividends on the battlefield.”

So what does this mean?

As a dynamic industry, Retail is perfectly placed to attract and retain Millennials. And fresh thinking is needed. By looking to startup communities for new ideas, and adopting a “fast-failure” mantra, this digitally-savvy generation can bring real change. Retailers need to get comfortable trying new things, ripping up existing business models and resisting the urge to rely on “safe” options like further discounting. We shouldn’t be afraid to embrace new ideas from outside to shake things up, and provide the Millennial generation with new opportunities to succeed – for themselves, and for our businesses.

Sinek’s commentary is compulsive viewing and retailers should take note of the lessons – the Millennials aren’t coming – they’re already here! Now let’s give them the opportunities, and see what they can do…

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