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Who is the modern customer?

Millennials are already having a radical impact on the modern marketplace, redefining how retailers interact with customers and dictating even the platforms on which these interactions occur (Rupa Ganatra, in CNBC). What's more, their influence shows no sign of waning: Accenturepredicts the retail sector will change more in the next 5 years than it did in the last 50, with millennials and future generations driving the transformation. Crucially, however, the traits causing these changes are not constrained to just the youngest demographics.

The ‘millennialisation' of the modern customer

Many characteristics commonly assigned to millennials are largely due to their early adoption of modern technological advances - as other generations catch up, these disruptive demands and expectations are becoming prevalent. In the words of the founder of the Millennial 20:20 conference, "it doesn't matter anymore what your age is: the evolution is happening everywhere" (Rupa Ganatra, in CNBC).

Indeed, analysists are starting to suggest that there are now more similarities than differences between millennials and older generations in several areas (Financial Times, HBR). These commentators highlight many of the key traits assigned to this much-discussed demographic as either commonly exaggerated or not exclusive to millennials.

Take the most famous millennial attribute: their ‘digital native' status. A common interpretation of this is that they are somehow innately more adept with technology, but this is clearly not the case: they are simply accustomed to using it more frequently. The sheer ubiquity of modern technology throughout their formative years means millennials look to it to help solve their problems or facilitate their daily activities. But, as technology continues to permeate more of our lives, this most millennial of traits is being mirrored across generations.

Millennials may have been the first generation to have grown up in a digital world, but the rest of us are catching on fast.

Financial Times

These conclusions are supported by cross-generational adoption rates of modern technological retail advancements. A study by UPS showed that non-millennials are actually increasing their online purchasing activity at a much faster rate than their millennial counterparts. 52% of non-millennial respondents had made an online purchase in the last three months (up 8 percentage points since 2014), as compared to 53% of millennials (up only two percentage points since 2014). Increased digital adoption rates are even seen within the more senior demographics, with 42% of over 65s in the USA now owning a smartphone, up from just 18% in 2013 (Pew Research Center).

As a result, older generations are starting to share millennial expectations. Much of this is due to the meteoric rise of brands like Netflix, Spotify, and Uber, who, by offering instant, on-demand access to content/services, are creating an increasingly impatient modern consumer. This is especially the case with brand interactions where the majority of customers expect immediate and personalised responses which are consistent across all channels (Salesforce). As live chat and social media phase out traditional email and phone customer service communications, consumer expectations are shifting across the board, with Baby Boomers' demand for real-time customer service responses (62%) now almost in-line with millennials' (66%) (Salesforce).

More than any other consumer group before them, millennials are influencing the perceptions, expectations and purchasing behaviours of surrounding generations.


The "Millennial Mindset"

Due to the adoption of such traits, analysts have outlined an overarching mentality to encompass any who exhibit these behaviours, regardless of their age. For example, a 48-year old man would not be considered a millennial, but if he is an avid user of Netflix and Spotify and a keen proponent of Android Pay, he is as millennial in behaviour as many 22-year olds. As a result, this customer would be one of many to exhibit the so-called "Millennial Mindset" (Jeff Fromm, Forbes).

We are living in a new consumer market where a traditional target audience no longer exists. Rather, you're aiming to connect with consumers who may range in demographics and backgrounds, but still behave in a way that is reflective of the Millennial Mindset.

Jeff Fromm, ANA

Already, retailers across various sectors are beginning to react to the knock-on effects of this growing mindset. As Mark Weinstein, a Senior VP at Hilton Hotels, put it, "it's no longer good enough just to be the best in your industry - consumers are comparing us to all experiences… we have to aspire to be the best brand" (eMarketer). In an effort to do so, Weinstein is putting himself in the minds of millennials after recognising that their demands often apply to the wider market. In his words, "we know that things like instant gratification, ease of use and lack of friction are important to them, and while they may be the most vocal about it, everyone appreciates these things" (eMarketer). The key message here is that it remains vital that retailers continue to adapt to millennial demands, but it is just as important that they do not exclude older generations in their modernisation strategies.

The same is true with the automotive industry, where forward-thinking OEMs and dealers are scrambling to perfect the customer experience. Harnessing engaging solutions like AR/VR could be the answer to this. Although often associated with younger customers, they can actually enhance the sales process for all. By leveraging these technologies, retailers can address the 40% of customers who would pay more if AR was part of the shopping experience (Entrepreneur) and the 79% who feel a stronger connection with a brand who uses immersive technologies (VR Focus). It is important to emphasise these statistics represent all ages of car-buyer, not just millennials.

Online retail is also an area of significant development, with personalisation an increasingly common aim. To truly achieve this goal, however, it is crucial that retailers recognise that the disconnect between online and in-store needs to be addressed. The two must be integrated into one unified platform which will enable customers to maintain a single conversation with the retailer across multiple touchpoints. This addresses the growing demand for consistency in brand interactions, with customers expressing frustration at repetitively restarting their journeys when they move from mobile to desktop to physical store (Accenture).

While these intelligent, interconnected systems have been a luxury in the past, they are now verging on a necessity for brands hoping to gain - or even maintain - market share. As a result, early adopters like Audi, who are embracing these modern strategies, offer a glimpse of what the future of retail could hold as this prevailing mindset continues to make its demands felt.