Are brands ready for the Millennials?

Girls texting millenialsIn its recent communications market report Ofcom has proven that the millennium generation of 14 and 15-year-olds are the most technology-savvy in the UK. Their exposure and awareness to digital media and brand communication across all tech devices is going to equal if not surpass that of the current adult generation, which today is estimated at a staggering eight hours 41 minutes.

These teens are the consumers of the future. They will have high expectations of brands when it comes to digital brand engagement. They have grown up with broadband and digital communications at their fingertips. They are already accustomed to instantaneous service and will expect brands in the future to serve to their preferences across all technologies, wherever they maybe.

So what will these millennial consumers expect in the future?

At the moment, it’s all about mobile. But soon, mobile will simply be a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have. For millenials, it will all be about cool tech and it’s coming fast with Apple again rumoured to be launching its long awaited iWatch.

They’ll wear it, carry it, follow it, tweet it or like it and wearable tech will be the norm, with the whole consumer experience being guided and personalised by technology.

Stores will be seamlessly interactive and with tech integrated into each and every experience. From beacon technology alerting passing shoppers to what deals are taking place in-store, to mirrors allowing you to try on the clothes virtually, to paying on your mobile and receiving e-receipts, through to having the gift delivered to you by a drone, tech won’t be a futuristic concept, it will be part of the millenials’ day to day.

Are brands ready to deliver a sustainable digital future? 

Burberry is often the one to watch in terms of digital offerings. It already has interactive dressing rooms in which shoppers can try on garments, triggering interactive screens to show the product being tried on walking down the catwalk.

Digital concept stores are being introduced across the country by Argos, unveiling the store for the digital future. Highlights of the Old Street shop include a 60-second Fast Track collection service for items ordered and paid for online or via mobile, while in-store shoppers will buy at Pay and Collect podiums.

But examples like these are few by comparison of the overall retailing landscape. Whilst brands are often in the press for the new cool tech they’re trialling, there is a vast majority of retailers who are lagging behind with the most simplistic digital integration to their core retailing processes.  How many retailers can scan a phone with the consumer’s loyalty card at the point-of-sale? Even those who have installed digital kiosks often let the consumer encounter frequent technical issues.

Whilst millenials will love new cutting-edge tech, they will expect the digitalisation of traditional retailing processes. Realistically brands can’t sustain fitting out every one of their 200+ stores, just their flagship stores, so brands need to focus on getting the basic digital experiences right. This in itself is no easy task, it takes time and investment and a move toward true omni-channel digital retailing.

In doing so brands must remember to not only be good, but also be engaging. Put the millennial consumer first; fuse creativity with technology in order to enhance the everyday experience. Millenials will indeed expect the cool tech and the interactive experience, but they will also want to experience the brand, its look, its feel and its recognised philosophies.

It’s time for brands to act now, get the fundamentals right, but not forget their target audience for change is the next consumer generation. The millenials are coming; retailers need to be ready.

Julian Douch, partner and technical director of Open Reply