What Retailers Should Know About Millennial Shoppers

How the digital generation is shaping the shopping experience.

By Heidi Flato on January 14, 2014

The shopping habits of millennials are some of the most studied since those of baby boomers. Between their quick adaption to new technologies and attachment to the Internet, millennials pose unique challenges to retailers who are trying to understand how they make purchasing decisions.

As the largest age bracket, with more than 80 million individuals born between 1980 and the early 2000s, millennials hold enormous purchasing power — estimated to be $170 billion per year. While many believe this is the generation that could be the downfall of the “in-store shopping experience,” the fact is that the digital generation still prefers to visit retail locations, according to Accenture. Brick-and-mortar stores provide a more personalized shopping experience that allows them to make on-the-spot decisions.

To complement the buying decision process, digital generation shoppers are likely to use their mobile devices. More than 50 percent say it’s convenient to have a smartphone or tablet to research products or services while shopping, according to Barkley research.

Retailers, in turn, are providing ways for customers to use their devices in-store. For example, the Lowe’s app has a built-in scanner that allows the shopper to scan an item’s barcode then immediately receive user reviews and ratings so they can do research on products as they traverse the aisles.

This generation is also willing to share personal information in exchange for retail benefits. According to a survey from University of Southern California's Center for the Digital Future, 56 percent of millennials are likely to share their locations in order to receive discounts. This has helped with the monetization of social media platforms like Foursquare and Facebook, which allow retailers to offer coupons for those who check into their locations.

The oldest millennial shoppers are only 34 years old, which means we have yet to see what the full effect of this generation will be on the retail sector.     

This article is part of a series on retail trends in advance of the 2014 National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention being held in New York.