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Whether it’s older millennials (the ‘Generation Y’ born between 1980 and 1995) or the precocious Gen Zs (born after 1995), the demographic that generates the most column inches is getting more important all the time. Millennials will make up nearly half the working population by 2020, so are you meeting their needs?
Is the ‘hive mind’social media provides really welcomed? “That is a truth that comes through very strongly in shopping behaviours,” says Peter Wilson, a ‘Generation Y and Z’specialist at advertising agency Iris Worldwide, which has conducted deep research into shopping habits of millennials. “They absolutely invite and embrace influence from friends and influencers.” In fact, the virtual presence of their ‘tribe’accompanies millennials into your shop. “The ‘influence exchange’ as we call it is a two-way process. On one hand there’s the desire to assert yourself as an individual: ‘I bought this’ or ‘I shopped here’ because it says something about them. But the second element is receiving validation back from the peer group. They’re asking ‘Is this product or retailer I’m choosing saying the right thing about me?’”
The ‘swipe right generation’ are regularly described as needing instant gratification. Fair? “The claim that they’re fickle and impulsive is an absolute myth,” says Peter. “They’re incredibly measured in the way they make purchases.“Okay, the decision-making process will vary depending on whether they’re choosing 200g of salami or a cold-smoking set-up, but millennials are ever-mindful of the ‘repercussions’ of an impulse buy. “That might be finding a better deal somewhere else – they like to check different channels to get the best price. But on an emotional level it’s ‘What if I’m buying something that doesn’t fit with my image?’ The idea of impulse purchases is anathema; they always look to screen or vet what they’re buying.”
This digital native, media-savvy demographic might opt-in to marketing material across a range of channels, but won’t be spun a yarn.
“Transparency is key for the millennial generation,” says Catherine Conway, director of zero waste concept Unpackaged. “I’m not sure how committed they are to ethics – you still see them queueing to buy sweatshop clothes – but because the world they live in can transmit stories in seconds, information travels like wildfire. You can’t hide stories any more, so brands can’t pretend to be authentic.” That’s great news if your range is built on the fabulous provenance or your shop has a genuine commitment to the causes it supports. If not, expect to be rumbled.
Are ease and speed at the point of purchase as important as people say? “Our research found it is,” says Peter, “but with Gen Z the celebration of that purchase is crucial. Getting the product is one thing, getting a piece of social currency they can share on Snapchat or Instagram is another.” One retailer nailing the post-purchase moment is Peggy Porschen Parlour, a boutique bakery in London’s swish Belgravia thronging with influencers snapping selfies. This ‘fairytale’destination retailer has bagged 219,000 Instagram followers, and delivers them regular marketing messages cloaked in a healthy dose of powder pink. The shop’s success with millennials is no happy accident; Peggy herself delivers a module on PR and marketing on the bakery’s Business Of Wedding Cake day course (£350).
“Online retail plays a really important part, of course, but physical retail experience has a critical role,” says Peter. He uses the analogy of online dating: no matter how attractive the digital incarnation of a retail brand, it’s the face-to-face experience that seals the deal. “Millennials have a desire to experience how brands behave. Bricks and mortar might be just the tip of the iceberg – the bulk of sales might be online – but that tip is really important. That experience is bigger than just a transaction; it’s multi-sensorial and that’s crucial for fine food. They want to be seeing and smelling and tasting and touching.”
Sean O’ Callaghan (AKA Fat Gay Vegan) has rallied Gen Y and Zs to the burgeoning vegan scene, transforming the fortunes of niché food traders:
I consider what I’d like to see in an event, what works at my other events (such as London Vegan Beer Fest), and how it can work financially.
The difference is in 2018 they are getting vegan versions delivered to them at a very high standard.
Instagram especially is an incredibly powerful tool for event outreach.
Sean is co-founder of Hackney Downs Vegan Market. His first book, Fat Gay Vegan: Eat, Drink and Live Like You Give a Sh!t (£8.99, Nourish Books), is out now.
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