Peering Past Millennials: 4 Ways to Target the Centennial Shopper

Millennials have changed the way retailers run their operations and even the way they respond to meet the changing needs of this generation of consumers. Now retailers are faced with having to shift once again to meet the needs of the next big generation—the so-called Centennials, the generation after Millennials, often defined as those born 1996 and later.

Today, Centennials already wield close to $70 billion in purchasing power, an amount expected to grow to $200 billion–plus by 2018, and by 2020, Centennials will account for 40 percent of all consumers.

With the majority preferring to save rather than spend money, it's becoming increasingly difficult to crack open the wallets of thrifty Centennials, who have already influenced a significant drop in teen spending. Meanwhile they spend 10-plus hours a day online, receive an average of 3,000 text messages a month, and have an attention span of eight seconds, making grabbing their attention challenging at best.

Honing an effective customer engagement strategy will be crucial to making successful connections with this new breed of shoppers. Retailers are pinning their futures on focused efforts in a number of key areas.

Taking a Mobile-First Approach

While Millennials are digital natives, Centennials are "mobile digital natives." As such, they're twice as likely to shop on mobile devices as Millennials. As a result, retailers are moving fast not only to adopt mobile-first commerce approaches but also to introduce highly differentiated experiences that incorporate mobile and digital in the store environment.

True Religion recently introduced a unique endless aisle and next-gen clienteling concept that leverages an Apple Watch app to allow store associates to adopt a new way of personalizing interactions with customers in-store.

True Religion loyalty members opt in to a mobile app that integrates with geo-fencing and in-store beacons. Upon entering the store, sales associates are alerted via Apple Watch haptic feedback, and social media integration incorporates profile pictures so store associates can recognize and greet customers by name. One tap of the watch opens a wealth of customer information from the customer’s previous interactions online or in-store, including a virtual view of past purchases enabling associates to make recommendations.

Stressing the In-Store Experience

Stores are the brand's showcases and a foundation of the customer experience. The store still matters to Centennials, as 46 percent of them prefer to shop in-store, compared to 36 percent of Millennials.

While in the past the goal of in-store technology was to streamline activities (e.g., line busting), today the focus is on slowing the customer down to spend more time in the store engaging with merchandise, branding, and store personnel to heighten the chances of closing a sale and fostering greater brand affinity.

Many retailers are fusing music, fashion, and social media to create a unique shopping experience to guide, inform, and entertain consumers. Others are adding new services to formulate exciting new "experience retail" concepts, such as Urban Outfitters' Space 15 Twenty concept store in Los Angeles, which features art, performances, pop-up shops, a salon, and an Umami Burger stand.

Making Savvy Use of Social Media

Social media engagement is essential, because Centennials are big on curation—collecting, sharing, and remixing content to exhibit their influence and notoriety. Centennials are often more trusting of a peer’s opinion than a business or a brand. This has turned traditional advertising and marketing on its head; engaging with Centennials has to be all about them, not about you, so you need to provide the means for them to engage with your brand in a fun and authentic way.

Consider leveraging user-generated video- and photography-based platforms that encourage self-expression and satisfy their need for peer validation, and look to incorporate cause marketing and “celebrity bloggers” into your social engagement strategies for added influence and inspiration cachet. Beauty blogger Sophie Hannah Richardson—with more than 139,000 Instagram followers and 16,000 YouTube subscribers—has been engaged by makeup brands including Urban Decay and Rimmel London.

Tapping into Analytics

As a result of Centennials' prolific use of social networking, they leave a rich data trail that retailers can leverage to better understand them via analytics. Brands are investing in building a presence on social communities since they understand the tremendous opportunity to mine for sentiment. Social media mining is also being used to identify "tribal leaders"—those who have the most connections and wield the most influence, to gain powerful insights for targeted marketing promotions.

Analytics identify the right action to take at the right time to have a positive impact on sales, marketing, margins, and inventory and fulfillment decisions, to both optimize profitability and increase customer centricity—in other words, to help align retail organizations with the needs of Centennial customers.

Retail Reinvention

Now is the time to revise and reinvigorate your customer engagement initiatives in order to be ready to adapt to Centennial customers—to understand that they are more frugal, for instance, and that their loyalties lie more with styles and trends than with particular brands. Customer engagement, merchandising, inventory and pricing must all be spot on to attract and retain the new Centennial shopper, who will continue to redefine retail as we know it in the near future.

As Aptos's vice president of customer engagement solutions, Nathalie Belanger oversees product management, product marketing, and strategic consulting for Aptos POS (store, mobile store, and payment), digital commerce (e-commerce and enterprise order management), and CRM/clienteling. An accomplished leader with extensive senior experience in retailing and retail technology, Belanger was previously vice president, e-commerce, at Reitmans Canada and was on the executive leadership team of Aeroplan, one of the largest loyalty marketing firms in North America.

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