When we talk about “millennials”, there can sometimes be a tendency to generalise about what is actually a very diverse group of consumers, covering anyone from the ages of 18- to around 35-years-old, anywhere in the world. Admittedly, this group does have some unifying characteristics; their tendency to be digitally skilled, for example (although this depends on regional circumstances). These consumers have grown up with technology, whether it is computers, smartphones, video games, and therefore are more demanding of brands when it comes to their customer journeys. In addition, in the modern digital era, millennials are confronted with far greater choice; a competitor is only a touch (or even a swipe) away! However, we must avoid falling into the trap of thinking that this must mean that millennials are “disloyal” to brands, and impossible to lock into a healthy commercial relationship. If consumer goods companies respond in the right way, there are immense opportunities to strengthen relationships with this demographic.
At IGA, our research into millennial consumption patterns has revealed something very interesting. What we are seeing is that consumers are purchasing a wider range of food brands than they used to. We have to ask ourselves, though, whether this is reflective of particular psychological tendencies among this generation, or environmental developments. I tend to find the latter a more plausible explanation; it is about greater choice and accessibility.
The smartphone has become the primary portal through which millennials engage with the world around them. What this means is that they have access to far more information than the previous generation and therefore finding out about a new food product is far easier than ever before. The result? Purchasing behaviour becomes fragmented and there is a disintegration of traditional consumption patterns, which marketers and salespeople have relied on for decades.
How should FMCG brands respond to this fragmentation? It might sound frightening to some, but these changes require a fundamental rethink of a consumer goods company’s business model. 20 or 30 years ago, the model was relatively simple; it was about building a supply chain to serve a rigid “community” and building a store where the population would grow the fastest. However, in a more unpredictable world, where consumers are behaving in new ways, this approach simply doesn’t cut it. What this new landscape requires is a significant investment in digital services, particularly personalisation and customer convenience.
Ask any millennial and they will tell you, “I’m not a consumer. I’m a person”. What this means is that FMCG brands’ customer journeys have to be engaging and, above all else, relevant. The research suggests that bricks and mortar retailers are not doing enough to produce tailored services for their consumers, which means that, ultimately, they will lose out to the likes of Amazon, which offers users personalised purchasing suggestions based on their previous activity. It is not even particularly complicated to implement these kind of tools; FMCG leaders need to realise that these steps are straightforward and critical to business success.
Of course, it is not just about personalisation; the customer journey itself has to be seamless. We tend to hear a lot about the importance of on-boarding processes in a financial context, especially with the rise of challenger banks, but exactly the same principle applies to the food sector. Digital services must be easy to navigate and enable customers to find the products they are searching for within seconds. Transactions should be processed securely and quickly, otherwise millennial consumers will be deterred. There should also be frictionless links between the in-store and digital experiences; these cannot be seen as disparate services, but rather as a unified customer experience.
Another crucial point to consider in appealing to millennials is the importance of sustainability. A significant body of research suggests younger consumers are more socially- and environmentally-conscious, and so businesses failing to address issues such as carbon emissions and exploitative labour practices could find themselves losing customers. In addition, with the rise of social media, a scandal involving a sensitive environmental or social issue could lead to a brand’s reputation being tarnished (permanently) within a very short space of time.
If the ambition is to build a strong millennial customer base, there is little point in investing in a sophisticated digital customer strategy without addressing any underlying sustainability issues. Building a reputation as a transparent and compassionate company with meaningful sustainability goals is vital to appealing to modern consumers.
At this year’s Sustainable Retail Summit in Lisbon, I will be discussing the challenges of millennial consumption patterns in further depth, collaborating with industry leaders and government representatives to drive positive outcomes. Every year, the event provides a unique opportunity to share best practices and learn about initiatives across the industry, particularly when it comes to sustainability. Events such as the SRS serve as a reminder that it is in everyone’s interests to collaborate and build a more sustainable, prosperous and successful consumer goods sector.
President & CEO, IGA, Inc