October 6, 2016

Every generation has probably been treated like the most unique and interesting to ever come along. Remember the puzzlement over how to deal with Generation X? And of course, how to sell to them?

Millennials are the latest “most interesting generation ever,” but in some ways, the label applies a little better to them, if only because the nature of commerce has changed so dramatically during their time in the spotlight.

Consider the RF donagle receiver I just had to buy so that my TV remote wouldn’t behave erratically. As recently as five years ago, I would have spent half the day driving between various technology stores hoping to find one. Now? I popped it up on Amazon and bought it in less than a minute.

I’m nearly 50, so this still seems astonishing to me. Millennials expect that type of speed and convenience every minute of every day. To them, it’s normal—and if you can’t deliver it, you’re not worth their time.

So, how can a pet retailer deliver what millennials want? You can’t exactly ship dogs to their urban lofts, to say nothing of fish. But any retailer would be wise to understand the shopping patterns of its up and coming generation of customers, since this is the one that’s going to be with you the longest.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to do well with millennial shoppers:

• They expect to check out and pay quickly. If you don’t have Apple Pay or Android Pay, you should get them. The millennial’s life is contained in his or her phone, and you will be expected to accommodate the quick scan and swipe so they can pick up their dog food or cat toys and be on their way.

• Anything wrong with your store could be all over social media before you even know about it. Millennials are constantly engaged with friends and associates digitally, so everything they see is a tap away from showing up on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook. Therefore, you don’t have the margin for error you once did. A generation ago, they sought out the manager and let them know about their problem. Today, they tell their friends halfway around the world within three seconds of seeing it.

• They want to be able to find out online if you have what they’re looking for. They don’t want to wander the aisles searching for things. I realize it’s expensive to develop a custom app that makes your entire inventory available, and there are reasons you may not want to do that. But seek off-the-shelf software solutions so you can make it as easy as possible for millennials to know the score before they walk into your store.

• Millennials will exchange information for discounts, and that’s valuable to you. Ask them to provide their e-mail addresses in exchange for a 10 or 20 percent discount on their next purchase, and many will agree. They’re used to getting lots of e-mail, so they don’t really care. And now you’re in an excellent position to market to them using e-mail.

• There are limits to the value of customer reward programs, but the biggest one probably applies less to millennials than it does to other generations. A lot of people (and I’m one of them) don’t like constantly being asked to produce reward program cards every time they buy something in a store, but millennials are used to it. And it makes your efforts in push marketing more effective with them.

Every generation gets used to the norms of their time, and the only reason previous generations didn’t sit on their couches tapping devices and getting instant gratification was that no such thing was possible for them. You can’t blame millennials for taking full advantage of the way things work today, and you really can’t blame them for choosing to shop with the retailers who best take advantage of technology and of their knowledge of the consumers to give them what they expect.

And here’s the opportunity that millennials present for you: They have tremendous enthusiasm for those who can give them what they want, as they want it. They love their pets as much as any other generation. If you make the effort to connect with them, listen to them and meet their needs, they could be loyal customers for decades, until they have their own kids who have their own pets.

If you get social media and other aspects of the digital world, you’ll realize millennials are easier to reach than any generation that preceded them. You just have to make sure that, when you do, you reach them with what they need, want
and expect.

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