How to Sell to the Millennial Shopper, 4 Strategies That Work

Women talking a selfie

By Emily McCullough and Tricia McKinnon

All of the scrutiny placed on millennials is for a reason, millennials are expected to overtake boomers as the largest generation in the US in 2019.  As a digitally native generation millennials have already begun to impact the face of retail and it is not all about technology or online shopping.  This powerful generation still likes to shop in stores.  According to an eMarketer report a majority of millennials (45%) when making a purchase over $100 prefer to research digitally and buy in-store.  But these consumers have greater expectations and to get a millennial into your store you need to provide a compelling experience. What type of experience? Read on to see how some of the best retailers are doing it and learn about other factors that are influencing millennial buying behaviour.

1. Millennials don’t just shop anymore, they experience things.  They want a favourable memory they can look back on. When a millennial enters a store they are more than just shopping, they want to enjoy the experience. With this shift in consumer expectations comes the rise of the experience economy – where consumers want to have a great feeling while they are shopping. 

Glossier is brand that that gets the millennial shopper. Glossier was born out of CEO Emily Weiss’ blog, Into the Gloss in 2014.  The fast-growing beauty brand reached unicorn status earlier this year after a round of funding valued the company at $1.2 billion.  The brand has a cult like millennial following and has effectively redefined the in-store experience when Glossier’s New York City (NYC) flagship store opened last fall.  The store is the definition of when Instagram meets real life. With millennial pink everywhere from the walls to couches to makeup counters the store feels more like a status symbol. The atmosphere of the store encourages customers to hangout, try on products and of course document the experience on Instagram.  

According to the New York Times, Glossier’s NYC flagship store “offers what are quickly becoming the three Cs of the digital era: community, conversation and content.”  Speaking about Glossier’s NYC flagship store Weiss said: “we’re not focused on selling you stuff”. “We don’t have people working on commission. When you’re in such a transactional time — a time of Amazon having engineers working on cross-selling and upselling and better and better algorithms to get you to buy stuff — it’s really important to create spaces and experiences that help you feel things.”  Weiss also said that her vision for the store is to create a “landmark-to-be”.  “I’m going to the Statue of Liberty, I’m going to Central Park, and I’m going to Glossier”.  

Even the banking industry is getting in on the experience trend.  Capital One recently opened up cafes hoping to entice more millennials to do business with the bank. The cafes have coworking spaces and customers can purchase beverages and snacks while they are hanging out or working there.

2. Millennials want to feel a part of the process by co-creating products with brands. With the popularity of influencers continuing to grow, millennials love seeing the people they follow wearing products that they can also wear. Since millennials know more about the lives of the influencers they follow than any traditional brand spokesperson the degree of trust between an influencer and their fans can be higher.  

Take the success of millennial fan favourite Revolve.  70% of Revolve’s sales are driven by influencers and the company has a network of over 2,500 of them. This network includes influencers with a small following to high profile celebrities.  Revolve partnered with one of its influencers, Aimee Song to launch a capsule clothing collection in May of this year. Perhaps the use of influencers sounds like old news, but Revolve is one of the companies that pioneered the use of them in its marketing strategy.  Revolve has said: “we believe that much of our growth in our customer base to date has originated from social media and influencer-driven marketing strategy.” 

Glossier has also said that user generated feedback on its blog has been critical in developing its popular products.

3. Millennials are value-driven and seek brands that align with their values. With a current focus on environmentally sustainable products, millennials often follow brands that support this cause. Everlane is a clothing brand has done well among millennials.  It mostly sells high quality basics (cashmere sweaters, cotton t-shirts and jeans) but at lower prices than retailers such as J.Crew or Banana Republic would sell similar items.  One of Everlane’s core values is transparency.  Customers shopping on can click on an item of merchandise to “see the factory” where the merchandise is made.  Once redirected customers can see pictures of the factory and learn about more about it. Everlane is so committed to social responsibility that it waited until it found a factory that adhered to its sustainability standards before launching a line of jeans. Providing customers with information on and photos of the factory that was eventually chosen culminated in a record breaking waiting list for Everlane’s line of jeans.  

Brands who keep up to date with current issues and address these issues through their products are likely to gain the support of like-minded millennials.

4. Millennials are also hypersocial. They want to feel connected to something – whether it be to a brand or to customers who shop from the same brand as them. While there is a lot of discussion about millennials abandoning retail stores that is simply not true.  Speaking about the Apple store, Apple’s now departed head of retail, and former Burberry CEO, Angela Ahrendts said: “I think as humans we still need gathering places.” “And when you are serving digital natives, the thing they long for more than anything is human connection. Eye contact.”  As a result, under Ahrendts’ rein Apple stores were redesigned to include features like “forums” for local artists and movie showings, and educational programming for customers to learn more about how to use Apple products.  


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