Is there a secret sauce for merchants to capture the evolving millennial? Those are the young consumers who are not that young anymore, and moving steadily toward the peak earning years of their lives — the consumers who have high expectations and are comfortable with everything mobile.
One formula that offers engaging consumer experiences, and doesn’t insult the intelligence of millennials, is a combination of private-label debit and rewards or loyalty programs. Kristen Bailey, chief customer officer for payments and loyalty provider ZipLine, recently discussed with PYMNTS the prospects for not only reaching those young/not-so-young shoppers, but holding onto them as well.
“Millennials are the real drivers of adoption when it comes to mobile payments and rewards programs in general,” she said, “and more and more of our merchant partners are looking to us” to make those connections with consumers.
Merchants in every industry are aggressively looking for ways to win the hearts and frequent visitations of millennials. TJX recently reported its 16th consecutive quarter of growing consumer traffic, and credited younger shoppers for much of that growth. Samsung, too, is lowering smartphone handset prices to drum up more millennial business.
However, millennials care about more than price.
First, woe to the merchant that forgets how strongly tied millennial consumers are to their mobile devices. “Millennials have access to multiple screens with many ongoing messages,” Bailey said. That means a retailer must offer a user experience that considers “the fact that your mobile app is not going to be the only thing that [you] will be engaged with at the moment.”
However, getting the attention of those mobile-obsessed consumers requires more than cheesy, generic and point- or game-based loyalty programs that offer ho-hum rewards for shoppers. “More than anything, millennials are really driven by experiences,” she told PYMNTS. “And if they are loyal to a brand, they can turn into your staunchest advocates.” That matters because those youngish consumers are not only mobile-centric, but also great “networkers,” she said, and they view “connectivity as currency.”
By winning the heart of a millennial, a merchant may also win other hearts in that shopper’s digital and mobile network. “The brand has an opportunity to extend its reach through millennial brand advocates,” she said.
The Appeal Of Surprise
So, what really wins over those shoppers?
Surprise, for one thing. As Bailey put it, don’t be uncreative enough to simply offer a Diet Coke as a reward to someone who often buys a Diet Coke. That might seem pragmatic, but chances are the millennial a merchant is trying to impress might simply shrug that off and fail to keep their mobile app at top-of-mind position. She used Panera as an example of a loyalty program that offers unexpected rewards, such as a chocolate chip cookie offered to a guest who visits after an extended absence. Millennials also want reward options, not just a single, standard choice.
In addition, merchants need to leverage data for analysis to know their customers “almost individually,” Bailey said, “and present them with offers that are relevant.” Millennials want to feel that “this brand knows me … that they care about me.” In a general sense, that differs from the real or supposed cynicism of Gen Xers, the generational elders of millennials, but that’s a difference of technology. “Marketers did not have the ability to market one-on-one” back then, Bailey noted.
Millennials also differ from older consumers in how they treat rewards. Unlike Gen Xers or baby boomers, millennials “can be hoarders or savers of rewards,” she said. “If they earn a free coffee, or five free coffees, they consider that a form of currency, and they would like to be able to share and gift those earned rewards” to other consumers in their networks. “Other [generations] don’t really do this.”
Private-label debit helps merchants and marketers to better know their customers through the data accumulated about individual purchase behavior via these programs, she said. Not to mention, Bailey pointed out, that millennials all but “live their lives” via debit, with over 60 percent of those young consumers not even owning credit cards.
That data will increasingly lead to more sophisticated marketing efforts targeting millennial consumers. “Right now, there is almost a passive and generic approach,” she said.
According to Bailey, in October, ZipLine is set to launch a convenience store private-debit program, which combines rewards that “integrate with our payments platform seamlessly.” Millennials are having a dominant impact on today’s economy, and their force will only increase in the future.