Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions (TGCS) Channel Sales Executive Lora Coggins opened her Forums 2019 session with a question of great import to campus retailers: Is brick and mortar here to stay?
Ms. Coggins has spent 19 years honing expertise in retail innovation. In her work, she has connected retailers worldwide with many of the devices credited for revolutionizing consumer brick-and-mortar expectations. These include self-checkout machines, customer experience tools and the POS terminals and accessories that support the MBS system. MBS partnered with Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, Durham NC, decades ago, because of its reputation for innovation and reliability.
Ms. Coggins assured the session attendees that she sees a bright future for brick-and-mortar stores. While their actual footprint may shrink, the stores will continue to attract shoppers. Her confidence stems from her field experience and her understanding of in-depth consumer research.
Her presentation drew statistics from Retail Dive, the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Consumer View and the TGCS research white paper “Beyond Millennials: How to Attract and Retain Today’s Consumers.”
She pointed out one of the biggest indicators that traditional retail will last: multiple studies show that most consumers still prefer shopping in-store to shopping online.
- 8 in 10 millennials prefer to shop in stores, according to Toshiba research.
Even so, campus stores will only thrive if they prepare for ongoing evolution, she said. The best way to gauge the direction of retail: study the shopping behavior of millennials, which she defined as consumers aged 23 to 38.
Millennials are today’s most powerful spending cohort, she said. They’ve inherited a few traits from Gen X (those aged 38 to 55), but also grown into a distinct identity with its own tastes and expectations. Millennial parents have a strong influence on Gen Z shoppers (those aged 4 to 23) and many have begun making purchases for their aging Baby Boomer parents (those over 55).
Campus stores should “home in on millennials now,” Ms. Coggins said.
Millennial shopping patterns
To illustrate her data, Ms. Coggins asked the attendees to think about their own shopping preferences.
“I’m a touch person,” she said. “I’m not going to buy that winter hat online for a gift if I don’t know the quality and what it feels like. It’s a personal gift, I want it to be special. What about you?”
The campus store professionals nodded in agreement.
“When I walk into a store, I want to know that they have my style and size. Retailers offer the ability to view availability online, and if they don’t when I get there, they should have the ability to ship it to me, creating the customer experience,” she added.
The class nodded.
“But I’m loyal to brands. I am a loyal brand shopper. I return to stores where I’ve had a good experience.”
The attendees nodded emphatically.
Ms. Coggins showed data on millennials that suggests preferences like these align with retail trends.
- Millennials say they are willing to pay an average of 31.6% more for products from retailers that have provided them with a good customer experience.
- 89% of millennials say that access to real-time information about product availability influences their decisions about which stores to frequent.
Her data also showed that convenience is a key motivator for millennials.
- 40% use subscriptions for necessities like prescription refills or for personal shopping services like Stitchfix®, Hello Fresh® and Trendy Butler®.
Ms. Coggins asked if anyone in the audience used a subscription service. A participant volunteered her thoughts.
“I like [my clothing service] because I don’t have to go out and shop,” the campus store professional said. “It’s kind of like Christmas every time I get a box. And, if I don’t like something, there’s a postage paid return box.“
Ms. Coggins said she had sampled meal-kit subscriptions for similar reasons: convenience, quality and ease of use. She purchased a service for herself first, then for her aging Baby Boomer parents.
“I did it for Father’s Day, so that my Dad would feel special,” she said. “It got them into the kitchen together. They could prepare a nice meal together, but they didn’t have to go out and buy anything.”
How millennials are changing the retail scene
In the final part of her retail trends presentation, Ms. Coggins highlighted millennial traits that distinguish them from Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
First, millennials are more loyal to brands than their elders, she said. That’s good news for campus stores, who can build on shoppers’ predisposition to school loyalty. If the connection to the school is clear, the loyalty will transfer to the store.
Millennials are more willing to invest in an experience, too, said Ms. Coggins. Campus stores should find ways to transform shoppers’ visits into fun occasions and create experiences that inspire shoppers to return, she said. She pointed out the success of grocery stores with coffee and wine bars.
“Do you have a café?” Ms. Coggins asked. “There’s a reason to have that there in the corner of your store. It brings people in and makes them walk through the aisles to get there.”
She also said that brick-and-mortar stores can find ways to benefit from the popularity of online sales. Kohl’s® has partnered with Amazon for returns, for example. Walgreens® is partnering with FedEx®.
“And you know where that drop-off is going to be,” she said. “In the back of the store. That’s why you always see the pharmacy counter in the back, too. So, people will walk through the aisles to get there.”
Ms. Coggins data suggested that campus store professionals keep three key qualities in mind as they innovate:
- Customer loyalty
“Things are changing,” Ms. Coggins said. “Don’t ever just do what you did last year. Think about these millennial shopping behaviors and do something new.”