Delivering What Millennials Want from Your Online Business

By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

Unless you’ve spent the last couple of years hiding under a rock, you probably already know a few things about millennials. Politicians need them to vote, the entertainment industry wants them to watch movies and stream shows on Netflix, and e-commerce sites expect them to snap, chat, tweet, like, and share their favorite products with all their friends and followers.

Considered to be in their early 20s to mid-30s, millennials are now considered the largest and most influential living generation, overtaking baby boomers in size; millennials account for 25 percent of the U.S. population.

This generation has also suffered through some disparaging labels, such as being lazy, underemployed, disrespectful, self-centered, and demanding. The research paints a different picture. This is not a generation of slackers, but they do have specific expectations from brands and they spend a lot of time on social media sharing their opinions and experiences — the good, the bad, and the ugly! They’re also an instant-gratification type of consumer — meaning they don’t like to wait.

Online businesses are a perfect fit for this consumer. Not to mention, millennials will spend $200 billion per year by 2017, and a whopping $10 trillion across their lifetime. That buying power makes millennials a sought-after niche consumer. When targeting this influential generation of shoppers, here are some important traits to take into consideration:

  • Self-service options required: As an online business, you want to provide excellent customer service, but millennials don’t want that or anything else to disrupt the buying process. This generation wants to decide when and how they need assistance when buying online (or off).
  • It’s all about the journey: Millennials focus on the experience that comes with everything they do, whether that’s shopping, eating, or travelling. When catering to this niche, you’re likely to earn these online shoppers’ loyalty if you create a unique or special environment around buying from your store.
  • Tech, tech, tech: It’s very likely this group of consumers are shopping from a smartphone, so your online store better deliver a seamless mobile experience. It’s also a given that you’ll use the latest technology to enable purchasing, servicing, and marketing to these super tech-savvy shoppers.
  • Cause-centric brands appreciated: Millennials not only have a generous heart, they also want to shop with online brands that share their passion for making the world a better place. Cause consumerism, or businesses that support social good, came into the spotlight with companies like Toms, which donates a pair of shoes to charity for each pair of shoes purchased. Millennials have an affinity for this type of business model, and it’s paying off for newer social good brands like FlexWatches, which is winning over online shoppers with its commitment to charitable giving that is tied to specific watch styles.

    To be successful with this type of approach to wooing millennial customers, you need to be sincere about your support to a cause. It goes beyond making occasional donations to nonprofits; millennials expect your business to be centered around giving, and the cause to truly be at the foundation of your business model.

  • Be the brand: Similar to wanting to have a unique experience when shopping, millennials want to be actively involved with your brand. It’s not only about providing consumer-generated content, but rather helping influence the way your products are created or selected, and being an intimate part of the process somewhere along the way from start to finish. Think of this as going a few steps beyond customers giving feedback. If you can provide this niche market a sense of ownership in your online brand, you’ll be rewarded with long-lasting loyalty.
  • Social currency rules: It shouldn’t be a surprise that this socially adept generation of consumers take to social media, often when shopping online and off. They take to social platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube) to share their experiences with your brand, communicate with your brand, and learn about your brand from peers. If you’re going to focus on a niche with millennial consumers, then you want to integrate social media into all aspects of your company, and do it well.