Yes, Millennials DO Shop in Stores

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

By Greg Zakowicz, senior commerce marketing analyst at Bronto
5-minute read

In short:

  • Some retail analysts blame millennials for the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, but a recent survey of consumers suggests this isn’t true.

  • In fact, millennials shop in stores more frequently and are more likely to do so “for fun” than Gen Xers or baby boomers.

  • The survey’s findings provide a basis for retailers with brick-and-mortar stores to tweak their social media, email marketing and customer experience strategies in 2019.

Some in the retail industry believe that millennials have contributed to the decline of brick-and-mortar stores. According to popular belief, these digital natives are constantly tethered to devices and buy products online at the expense of physical stores. 

That’s a myth, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers. The study found that millennials visit brick-and-mortar retailers far more frequently than baby boomers and Gen Xers. 

More than half (56 percent) of millennials surveyed said they shop in stores at least once per week, and that’s not including convenience or grocery stores. In contrast, just 27 percent of baby boomers and 44 percent of Gen Xers shop in stores weekly.  

Asked why they enjoy shopping in stores, millennials said:

  • “I don’t have to wait for products to be delivered.” (63 percent)

  • “I like to see, hold and try on products before I buy.” (59 percent)

  • “I enjoy browsing stores.” (57 percent)

  • “I can seek advice from store associates.” (41 percent)

The survey revealed another notable distinction between age groups: The largest slice of millennials said they “usually shop because it's fun, even if I don’t buy anything.” In contrast, the largest groups of baby boomers and Gen Xers replied that they “usually shop only when I need to.”


Thus, for retailers courting the millennial market, the challenge is to create a “fun” experience from end to end, starting with targeted social media and email marketing and moving into mobile-optimized physical stores with comprehensive inventories and knowledgeable associates.

Think of social media as multiple channels, not just one. 

Sixty percent of millennials view social media as an important source for new product information, significantly more than baby boomers (25 percent) or Gen Xers (45 percent).

A strong social media strategy is essential, but it’s not enough to treat social as a single channel. Retailers need to analyze their performance on individual platforms--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, to name a few--to determine which works best for each type of consumer they’re courting and product they’re selling. For example, if you find that your millennial prospects tend to use Facebook to share new purchases, then your brand might incentivize a share with a discount or contest entry. Then, target recipients of that share with a Facebook campaign.

Pinterest, meanwhile, is usually more of an aspirational tool for long-consideration purchases such as home furnishings. Be sure your Pinterest images include a mouseover URL so pinners and their followers can easily access your item. Then, dive into your web analytics to size up what millennials and other shoppers are telling you.

Millennials use email … really!

You might expect that millennials regard email as a tool from yesteryear. In fact, the opposite is true. The survey found that 50 percent of millennials rely on emails for product information and suggestions, significantly more than baby boomers (33 percent) and Gen Xers (38 percent).


Millennials appreciate personalized emails that suggest products based on their purchase and browsing histories. These simple, effective messages allow them to sidestep the information overload on retail websites or Google. And personalized emails allow you to curate your product lineup, meeting millennial expectations that retailers will recognize their interests and anticipate their needs.

The mobile millennial

When retailers spot a millennial using a smartphone in the store, they often fear the shopper is price-checking or “showrooming.” That may be true. But the shopper may also be sharing an image or texting a friend about a potential purchase. Since demographics aren’t changing anytime soon, it’s time to start embracing the mobile millennial instead of feeling suspicious about them. 

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of millennials expect retailers to offer more mobile technologies. Keep in mind that a mobile-friendly store should further engage customers to the physical items around them, not suck them further into their phones. For example, a sign like “Need Help? Text 55512 for a Store Associate” contributes to a great in-store experience. 

Sephora provides another great example of using mobile to engage customers. Its app allows users to virtually try on makeup, offering a real-life view of how products will look. (Select stores have installed screens with cameras for the same experience offline.) The app also provides makeup tutorials to educate and inform. Whether the consumer is at home or in-store, these tools are useful in guiding their purchase decisions.

The in-store experience

Retailers have long strived to create an upbeat environment, but now, a totally fresh look at in-store offerings may be in order. Promotions and discounts can address the millennial love of “fun” shopping: 79 percent of millennials said special offers are important to the in-store experience. Emailed coupons for in-store purchases are one way to meet that desire and drive foot traffic. 

In-store kiosks at which shoppers can browse information on a full-size screen is another way to optimize the store experience.  

Smart product placement appeals to the millennial propensity for impulse purchases: Consider that 48 percent of millennials said they make a non-grocery purchase on the spot, without research, most or all of the time. That’s a lot more than baby boomers (28 percent) and Gen Xers (30 percent).


Asked what’s important in-store, 88 percent of millennials cited easy checkout, followed by availability of products/inventory (85 percent). While you can’t keep every item in stock all the time, you can ensure that sales associates are equipped to “save the sale” with mobile devices to look up product availability at other locations or arrange a ship-to-store transaction for later pickup.



The bottom line

As research shows, rumors of the millennial role in the decline of brick-and-mortar retail are greatly exaggerated. Retailers will benefit from fresh strategies to entice and delight the highly coveted millennial market.

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