ICSC Panel – Into the Mindset of Millennials

From July 16-18, retailers and real estate professionals convened for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC) New England Conference. The conference, taking place at the John B. Hynes Convention Center in Boston, consisted of networking opportunities, keynote speakers, and concurrent panel sessions. One of the panel discussions was moderated by NAI Hunneman’s Research Director, Liz Berthelette. Her panel was tasked with discussing the evolving role that retail and branding is playing in a society that consists of a plurality of millennials.

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The panel, aptly named “Into the Mindset of Millennials,” consisted of three Boston-based millennials: Alan Kelly, Christina Attaway, and Nikki Crugnale. Alan is an Irish immigrant who serves as the Director of Leasing for the Northeast at Waterstone Properties Group. His perspective and experience stood in stark contrast to the stereotypes given to millennials. Alan and his family live in Central Massachusetts; he bucks the trend of millennials moving to urban areas. Much of Alan’s analysis harped on his, and others’, desire to bring back human interaction in the commerce experience. Christina serves as the Manager of Social Media and Marketing at UrbanMeritage/Advantage Newbury. Her outlook focused on the benefits of social media and the conveniences afforded to those who live in the city. Nikki is the owner of Graem Nuts and Chocolate. As an entrepreneur, Nikki gave the discussion a unique perspective. Her central themes included how social media can help grow a business and how millennials can be both innovative and financially responsible.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the discussion came when the panel discussed some of the misconceptions and generalizations that have come to cloud the perspectives of millennial observers. They also discussed urban vs. suburban living; e-commerce vs. in-person shopping; and attractiveness of brands. Regarding housing, only 35.3% of millennials own a home compared to 64.2% of the population at large. This suggests that most millennials are living in apartments which, presumably, would be in urban areas. Further, the conveniences of urban living seem to be attractive to millennials. Shorter commute times, easy access to gyms and shopping centers, easy mobility with public transportation, and bustling social scenes are just a few of the many feature that millennials find attractive in urban life.

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Liz Berthelette, Nikki Crugnale, Christina Attaway, Alan Kelly

Regarding a millennial’s shopping preferences, there was no clear consensus among the group. According to a recent study, 82% of millennials prefer a brick and mortar shopping experience but expect cross channel experiences, superior services, and personalized promotions. However, in the last ten years, e-commerce has jumped from 3.6% of total retail sales to 9.5%. These conflicting numbers depict a diverse set of preferences among millennials. Treating this generation as homogeneous would be a mistake. Nonetheless, the advent of e-commerce has allowed millennial shoppers to choose the optimal experience for them. Most shoppers seem to buy bigger items in person while smaller, less-consequential items are often bought online.

The evolving shopping experience led nicely into a discussion of branding. Branding to millennials will take new and innovative strategies from marketers. 48% of millennials try to frequent companies that actively support social causes. As panelist Alan Kelly put it, “for millennials, mediocre doesn’t cut it anymore.” Effectively, as e-commerce becomes more prevalent and millennials become used to the chic designs of urban shops, the status quo for designing and branding becomes the pricey, flashy brands from the city. Also, millennials tend to value the story behind the brand. Aside from support of social causes, millennials like to know the story behind the retailer. Are they the first in their family to attend college? Are they first generation immigrants? Did they grow up poor? Accessible answers to questions like these tend to get millennials in the door.

It is important for business owners and leaders not to forget the obvious trends that are driven by millennials. Many prefer urban living. They are shopping online. They have a high demand for a quality brand. But perhaps the central answer derived from the “Inside the Mindset of Millennials” panel was that it is wrong to paint millennials with a broad brush. For every millennial that job hops, accrues debt, and lives with their parents, there exists a millennial that bucks those stereotypes.

This post was written by NAI Hunneman Research Intern John Olds

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