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November 2, 2015

There are a number of things that we’ve been told by the media about millennials over and over again. We’re past the point where we need to be told that millennials do more of their shopping digitally and less in the brick-and-mortar environment than the preceding generations. Right?

So it is a known fact that one must optimize the market potential of millennial customers by offering online purchases and having a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Instead—in considering the best approach in marketing to millennials—let’s consider some of the presumptions millennials seem to make about what the shopping experience should be like, and how pet retailers can operate in a way that is responsive to them.

What They Want

It’s often said that millennials are looking for a “seamless” shopping experience, which I suspect leaves a lot of retailers nodding their heads and agreeing, “Of course! A seamless shopping experience!” But they’re thinking to themselves, “What is that supposed to mean?”

Think of it like this: You’ve got a customer who was thinking about purchasing a bag of dog food while sipping his or her coffee this morning, and consequently set up an account on your website. Later that afternoon, while running errands, the customer wants to actually place an order for pickup. That requires finding your app on the Google Play Store or on iTunes, which the customer doesn’t mind. But once the app is downloaded, the customer wants to be able to log in using the same user name and password already set up via the laptop that morning.

Assuming that’s a snap, the customer also wants to make a choice. Maybe it would be more convenient to have the food delivered, so he or she wants the freedom to make that choice. But today the store is nearby, and it would be easier to just pop by and pick up the order. That begs a question: When the customer walks in the store to pick up a purchase pre-ordered online, will the staff know what to do and be able to do it quickly? Or will the customer have to look around for someone who’s trained to handle these strange things called “Internet purchases”?

Getting all this right is part of what leads to a truly seamless shopping experience.

Another aspect of catering to millennials involves simplifying their lives by putting certain things on autopilot where possible. Dollar Shave Club has done a very good job of this, simply by recognizing that most men use about four razor cartridges per month; feel that they pay too much for them; and don’t like the hassle of having to run to a drug store every time the last set of blades in the drawer is getting dull.

So Dollar Shave Club has given men a way to put a predictable pattern of purchases on auto-pilot. Four fresh razor cartridges arrive in your mailbox once a month without your having to do anything, save for the one-time set-up of the process.

What Pet Retailers Can Do

How much potential is there for pet retailers to offer customers a service like that? Do customers follow a pattern in how much food they buy? How much litter? How could technology make it easy to automate that process so the customer receives the product according to a regular schedule? How many customers would gladly pay for that convenience, giving you a repeatable revenue stream and built-in customer loyalty? And because millennials understand that they need to give you their e-mail addresses to set up their accounts and receive confirmation e-mails, how much could you take advantage of having that contact information to push other specials and offers to them?

Much of traditional retailing worked as it did because there was no alternative. People came into the brick-and-mortar store or browsed a catalogue that came in the mail because there was no other way to find out what was available and purchase it. Millennials came of age in an era when those limitations did not apply, and it seems antiquated to them when retailers offer only a tertiary nod to the digital methods that they and their peers simply take for granted. Indeed, they’re looking to form relationships with retailers who not only understand the technology, but are looking for ways to use it to simplify their lives and deliver them greater value.

Anyone can set up an online shopping site, develop an app, or start a Facebook page—or pay someone to do it for them. As we consider the challenge of marketing to millennials, those things are necessary, but not sufficient. What really brings you success is when you understand how millennials think and learn how to use these tools to deliver them value that reflects that thinking.

Keep in mind: No generation that comes after the millennials will think in the old way. The desire for seamless shopping is here to stay. As you develop strategies designed to bring you success beyond the next year or two, that’s worth remembering.

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