The Millennial Influence on Retail is a Regency Centers' series that outlines a generational impact on retail health, food, technology, and events & experience. Each week, we provide a look inside current market trends and behaviors, due to the changing lifestyles, wants, and needs of this influential demographic.
Events and Experience
“Xennials” or “Grey-Beard Millennials” have transitioned from adolescents into homeowners and young families. This has caused a market shift with the baby product industry, as well as home goods that hadn’t been affected before. These tech-savvy parents grew up without the internet, but were the early adopters of what became the powerhouse of social media and digital utility. Because of this, they understand the benefits of a digital world, but also the drawbacks. They don’t want their kids glued to an iPad anymore than the previous generations, but it’s hard to create that separation when life tends to revolve around its various uses. Replace the iPad with TV and you see that the concerns of a glowing screen on children really haven’t changed much throughout the years.
This is another reason why “experience” and authentic interaction is so important. We’ve talked about the importance of placemaking in our centers and how that serves as a community gathering hub. Throughout the country we are actively programming events that serve as a draw not just for these new families, but for communities as a whole.
Signature events and ongoing programming at some of our properties has become an important part of the third element of our Fresh Look® strategy: Connecting.
Connecting begins during the development process where we actively engage with our communities through digital channels such as social media or property websites. We foster an ongoing dialogue with the community in an effort to understand their desires for the center. In a recent case, our very active Facebook fans of Mellody Farm, the largest active retail development in Chicagoland, provided us with crowdsourced suggestions for new merchants at the center leading to signed leases with some of the crowd favorites.
The next phase is in the actual design of the center, with features and amenities that fit the needs and lifestyles of the customers. It must also be reflective of the local aesthetics, while also being innovative, interesting, and unique. A Spanish-style tiled-roof design will feel out of place in a center located in Pennsylvania, just as a kinetic art piece like the one at The Village at La Floresta would feel out of place at The Abbot in Cambridge, MA. This demonstrates the importance of becoming integrated members of the surrounding communities, enhancing the overall feel of the property, and simply making it a great place to meet up with friends.
As the center transitions to grand opening and operating, we host events to help the neighborhood get to know the merchants at the center and help it become a fabric in the lives of the community. Traditional and digital media help us spread the word about the center. We have had great success using social channels and mobile advertising to help build an engaged fan base and use those media to turn “digital eyeballs” into footfall at the center.
We also see photo-based social media, such as Instagram and SnapChat, as viable tool to building an engaged audience for our centers. The old “Kodak Moment” has now become “Instagrammable” areas that we are beginning to build into our centers as part of placemaking. Likewise, we are creating events that provide for these same shareable moments to allow our fans to help spread the word about the center to an even wider audience.
This melding of the digital and the physical is exactly what Millennials are identifying with. How can the digital world enhance or expedite their experiences in the physical world? It also allows us to see the analytics from our campaigns to see what does and what doesn’t work. This way we can continue to create content, events, and promotions that are a service and not an annoyance.
Bookstores, which were once thought to be a dying industry, are making a comeback that no one predicted. If you look at the new Barnes & Noble prototypes you will see a café that you can buy beer or wine at while you shop through the aisles. This helps to provide a social authenticity that you just can’t replicate online. It also taps into the aesthetics of Millennial’s appreciation for food as a shared and cultural experience. Lucky’s Market is another good example of this in the grocery sector. So, while headlines are trumpeting that bricks and mortar are going the way of the Tyrannosaurus thanks to some kind of technology asteroid, the numbers show that it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Customer service also falls into the category of “experience.” Remember that counter culture aspect that was pointed out earlier? There is an assembly line feeling to a lot of “last-generation” retailers that just doesn’t resonate with Millennials. Places that offer little to no service – or lousy service – seem to have no interest in making a relationship with someone who is willing to exchange money for a product. That old sales tactic of having helpful employees who are knowledgeable about the services being provided is a massive part of modern retailer success. A clear example is the Apple model with their bricks-and-mortar stores. Locations like the one at Market Common Clarendon have cracked the code on making sure any experience in the store is a pleasurable one by providing focused care for any issue.
Respect has to not only be shown for the consumer’s time, but also their cash – and sometimes where that money goes. Many companies, like TOMS shoes, have used their customer/company relationship to provide services to charitable causes. Patagonia and REI, again, uses proceeds towards conservation initiatives that it promotes via email marketing and social media. Consumerism with a cause works, and makes people feel good about their shopping habits.
To put it plainly, if your customer experience isn’t designed to be enjoyable and rewarding from entrance to exit then it’s runs the risk of not being successful. Customers will then go elsewhere (possibly online) where it is executed in a better format or concept. It’s really that simple.