Millennial Musings

By Chris Rockwell, Founder & CEO, Lextant

Chris Rockwell “gets” people. His company, Lextant, is a human experience firm in the business of helping companies to better tailor their practices to what customers want and need. We reached out to him for advice on how Millennials are changing the retail experience and how retailers can adapt to attract this important customer base.

design:retail: How are Millennials shaping new elements of retail design?
Rockwell: Millennials are challenging many of the common conventions of retailing. A smart and engaged psychographic, they don’t make purchase decisions on just accessibility or affordability. Quite the contrary, Millennials will seek out brands that represent their values and that go out of their way to engage them in an  authentic manner. It’s not enough to only sell products: Millennials seek unique experiences. The key element for retail design isn’t just the store itself, but what happens within the store and how it connects to a desired lifestyle outside the store. Showrooms become immersions, and Millennials seek them out.

d:r: What key things are Millennials looking for in a retail experience?
Rockwell: Millennials are changing the face of retail. They are less brand-focused than they are mission-focused. They believe in brands that are authentic and that give back locally. This has been a major benefit for local retailers, boutique stores, neighborhood gastropubs and national retailers, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, that shoppers believe have their values and interests in mind. Now, more than ever, retailers must understand consumers as more than just shoppers. They need to understand people’s motivations as ready adopters of technologies and as a generation of makers who might just create their own products rather than buy them from someone else.

d:r: Is Millennial loyalty lasting or fleeting?
Rockwell: In an attempt to strongly align with brands that share their values, Millennials will actually develop new brand loyalties. It won’t be because of the Polo logo or the Nike swoosh as much as the shared values of the organization and the commitment to involving the consumer in the story and end-use of the product or service. Shoppers aren’t just shopping; they are passionate pursuers of dreams and the successful retailers are holding hands with them before, during and after “the thing” shoppers want to do, not just the new season of what retailers want to sell.

d:r: What is the most surprising thing you have found in your research?
Rockwell: The most surprising thing is that Millennials are highly selective about technology. While they grew up with advances all around them, many Millennials shun the next app for something they can do for themselves. Millennials are a generation of “makers.” They don’t want to have what is mass-produced, rather they want to associate with a group that is more like them. The result is that they are tribal in their behavior—banding together with groups of like-minded individuals and brands that that don’t market to them, but experience with them. This is precisely why Facebook is a more a tool for Baby Boomers while Millennials are Snapchatting selectively to stay connected. What this means for retailers? To survive in the future, retailers must truly understand Millennials—who they are and what they seek—and understand that being part of their digital wallet isn’t going to capture their hearts.

d:r: How do you see the retail landscape changing as Millennials get older?
Rockwell: This is the billion-dollar question. Millennials may never want to be their parents, but they may just wind up wanting to be more like their grandparents and great grandparents—the people who organically canned food and made their own furniture. Some smart retailers will help make these dreams possible and will be a partner to Millennials’ progress, rather than a stop along the way. Perhaps the future will be won by retailers that do more to know their shoppers as people and grow the loyalty, involvement and collaboration of their customer.     

Chris Rockwell is the founder and CEO of Lextant, a user experience consultancy dedicated to informing and inspiring design through a deep understanding of people, their experiences and aspirations.


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