The biggest talk in retail, if it isn’t about how to grab the up-and-coming Gen Z while they’re hot, is about what Millennials want and how to give it to them. And chief among the research into the Millennial mind is questioning why we don’t shop in stores.
To put it mildly, stores are annoying.
There’s product everywhere. It’s disorganized, it’s messy, product is hidden behind other product that’s completely different, and there’s nothing easy or seamless about it.
Likening it to online, it’s as though all the store’s product—skirts, pants, dresses, tops—in all the colors, in no particular order, all pop up on the home page at once.
It’s an assault of product, really.
And we, as Millennials, have been trained not to have to deal with that. There’s so much product in the market that we need to be able to sift through it or we’d never find anything. And online wins at sifting.
We can search sites like ShopStyle looking for a yellow off-the-shoulder midi dress and narrow 10,489 dresses down to seven in just a few-seconds’ worth of typing and taps. It has never been easier to shop.
And what makes the e-commerce experience easier still, is that a site can remember our payment information and send our nicely parceled product right to our doorstep. Sure, there may be concerns about the fit, but with most retailers offering free shipping and returns, and product appears—in most cases—in four days or less, we take the risk because there’s really no risk. We try it, we see if we like it.
If I am going to put all that convenience aside and physically enter a store, I want to have fun. I want to be so excited about what I see in the stores, be able to easily find what I’m looking for (or even what I don’t know that I’m looking for) and be reminded of the perks of shopping brick-and-mortar, like seeing, touching and trying the product and walking right out with my goodies.
But stores—despite surely being pounded by news that Millennials favor experience over most things—are severely lacking in that very department.
I visited six different retail stores of varying price points and offerings in New York City (on 5th Avenue no less) in one evening and found every experience to be a fail.
Store floors were over full, and even in stores where the layout was more streamlined, the racks were over full, with product lost behind product on top of product. There were next to no sales associates walking the floor, in the event I wanted one to help be my sifter, and when I did seek one out (finding her only after circling the store a time or two) there was really very little that was helpful about her. It was easier to use the in-store kiosk to visit the store’s website, which essentially defeats the point of being in the store, to call up the item I wanted and show it to her.
Even then, she had to circle the store a time or two to find it, returning to tell me they didn’t have my size and that I could check online if I’d like.
The world of retail has also been trying to figure out how to get out from under this overly promotional cycle that it’s in. But the problem there is that stores are helping us not pay full price.
In one of the stores I visited that night, I went in to try on a coat I had seen online. The coat was selling at full-price, though the two coats flanking it were 30 percent off. So I asked the sales person whether that coat was on sale and she replied: “No, but it probably will be on Wednesday.”
Considering that Wednesday was less than a week from where I stood, what incentive would I possibly have to buy anything in that store at full price? And what’s more, considering the ease with which she gave up that information, why would I ever buy anything from that retailer at full-price again?
There’s always a holiday—real or fabricated—when there’s a discount. Then there are Friends & Family and Anniversary and No-Reason-At-All sales on top of that. And then when you get a “final” email alert noting that there’s 24-hours left for the sale, when that 24 hours is up, surprise: “We’ve Extended Our Friends & Family Sale!”
Apart from Zara, which has trained us all to shop on the spot because that product will very easily not be there in two weeks, or even tomorrow, I can’t recall the last time I paid full-price for an item. Even when a retailer offers an item at full-price, there’s always the trusty sites like RetailMeNot.com and DealsPlus.com that come through with coupon codes.
Retail is a bit of a mess right now, and physical stores are the sloppiest part. It isn’t at all that Millennials will suddenly stop shopping, but we’re buying fewer, more worthwhile pieces and we’re just not going to shop the same way everyone has always shopped.
As a woman who has loved shopping since I was three and carrying my own purse with no money in it, to say that shopping is annoying means we’ve reached a really sad day in retail.