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Engaging Millennials in an Omni-Channel World

Thrive by Meeting Mobile Shoppers’ Needs

The focus of most retailers in business today, when they first opened shop, was squarely on baby boomers and Gen Xers. The consuming landscape has changed in fundamental ways as the newer generations have become mature, active consumers. Growing up with powerful mobile technology Millennials’ expectations and patterns of interaction with retailers are predictably – fundamentally – distinct from those of older generations of consumers. The regular, almost continuous use of social media and mobile technology is normative and totally expected among Millennials. The embeddedness of Millennials in a virtual social structure impacts how this generation shares information, the information to which they expect to have access, and their level of trust in the transfer and sharing of data online.

Critical for retailers today is that beginning in 2014, individuals born after 1980 will represent approximately half (50%) of the workforce in the United States, and at this point also will be entering their peak years of disposable income. 1 By 2020 Millennial spending is expected to account for one third of total consumer spending. This growing market segment is the most likely to incorporate multiple technologies and multiple channels into the buying process. This generation is also the most likely to systematically engage with retailers across social media platforms.

Critical to this engagement, however, customers today want interactions with retailers, products, and services that are relevant both to their current and anticipated needs, but that also are essentially functionally immediate. Rewards programs can help to meet these needs, if they are deployed with the expectations and mobile technology use patterns of millennials in focus. Loyalty programs are extremely popular, with more than 2.6 billion program memberships in the United States today. These programs have a significant impact on consumers’ decisions. For example, sixty-nine percent of consumers report that the decision to shop at one store versus another is directly influenced by availability of a rewards program that fits their shopping goals, including upgrades, discounts, greater choice, etc. 2

However, in light of the increasingly mobile nature of the contemporary retailing space, creating this “fit” with consumers’ shopping goals requires that loyalty rewards programs merge in a seamless way with the mobile technologies and applications that consumers are most comfortable using. For example, by 2016 mobile, location-based promotions are anticipated to account for more than 63% of the $622.4 million dollars in local digital marketing spending, up from the $174.5 million spent in 2013.3 The programs that retailers design have got to coincide with consumers’ lifestyle choices, which includes preferences for mobile, virtual engagement.

For example, 55% of mobile assisted shoppers are willing to sign up for a rewards program while physically in a store, but only if the program offers benefits that can be used on customers’ smartphone. It is essential that retailers recognize the importance of the preferences of this segment because millennials represent 75% of the multi-channel consumers in the United States, and 77% of millennials participate in loyalty rewards programs.

  1. Rosenblum, Paula (2012). “The Times, They are A’Changin’: Here Come the Millennials,” Retail Systems Research, July 17, 2012, https://www.rsrrsearch.com/2012/07/17/the-times-they-are-achangin-here-come-the-millennials/.
  2. Rachapudi, Uday Shankar, and Pushkar Kumar (2012), “Managing retail Loyalty Programs,” Mu Sigma, http://www.mu-sigma.com/analytics/thought_leadership/decision-sciences-loyalty-program.html.
  3. Kharif, Olga (2013), “Getting Points for TV Part of Mobile-App Loyalty Programs,” Bloomberg Business, May 14, 2013, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-05-15/getting-points-for-tv-part-of-mobile-app-loyalty-programs.



Daniel G. Bachrach, PhD, is an award winning researcher and Professor of Management at the Culverhouse College of Commerce of the University of Alabama. Dan is coauthor or co-editor of six books, including Becoming more than a showroom: How to win back showrooming customers (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2016). His books are available in Chinese Dutch, French, Indonesian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish editions.