News & Insight

The Death of Retail – Are Millennials Really to Blame?

For almost a decade, we’ve heard about the impending death of retail. Shopping malls are going dark and former icons of American retail are on the verge of collapse. To survive, brands have shifted their strategies online to stay relevant, and ecommerce is taking the place of the time-honored trip to the store. It’s been widely reported that millennials – now 87 million strong – are at the root of retail’s death. Or are they?

How Millenials Acutally Shop

Contrary to popular belief, millennial shoppers actually enjoy going to brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, research by behavioral marketing firm, SmarterHQ1, suggests 50 percent of millennials not only go to physical stores, but they prefer going to them as a primary means of shopping. Much like other generations of shoppers, millennials use the in-store experience to research and experience products first hand. But what makes their generation different is that millennials prefer to make their purchases from the mobile app – sometimes while actually standing in the store. Millenials prefer the flexibility of making purchases when they want, not because they feel pressured to do so.

Savvy retailers have begun to respond to millennials’ “show room” shopping habits. Brands are constructing guideshops allowing individuals to come into the brick-and-mortar store, look at products, and try items on for size – taking the concept of the window display to another level. Other retailers have taken this a step further by installing in-store kiosks for ordering ease, allowing customers to walk out of the store hands free. Still, other brands with limited or no brick-and-mortar prescence are utilizing pop up shops to connect with consumers.

How Millenials Interaction with Humans

Another misnomer about millennials is their disdain for human interaction. Millennials have been categorically classified as screen addicts who only want to interact with brands in the digital sphere. But that’s not true either. Millenials are not ditching human interaction completely – especially when it comes to customer service. In a recent study conducted by STARTEK, in the millennial age group (18 to 34 years), an astounding 76 percent preferred to speak with a human when asked about potential customer service contacts either online or by phone2. Even though millennials and other age groups increasingly turn to digital self-service for straightforward help and interactions, they can’t always resolve the issue on their own. At that point, they want to engage with a human to help them handle it – but not just any human. They want to feel like the brand understands and respects them as individuals – not as an anonymous username. In short, they want to interact with a human who cares.

Appealing to the Millenial Shopper

Shopping habits of the millennial generation may not surprise everyone, but retailers large and small must adapt to today’s reality or die. So what are some important elements to remember when attracting millennials to your brand?

  • Build rapport and trust by getting to know millennials on a personal basis.
  • Ensure your retail strategy includes both online and offline ways to connect to your brand.
  • Offer flexible options for millinials to make purchases and receive support whenever and however they choose.
  • Offer incentives that meet millinials’ needs: In-Store Pickup Option – order online and save money on shipping by picking up at a retail location.

The priority of any retailer is to keep customers loyal and happy, while improving bottom line sales along the way. Retailers who want to not only survive but thrive will make the necessary changes to support the habits of the millennial shopper. Those who don’t adust may find themselves lying in the dust of the aftermath.


  1. SmarterHQ primary research. Millinials: Where they shop. How they shop. Why it matters.
  2. STARTEK primary research.