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Millennial Shopper's Expectations Drive Unified Commerce

Posted by Lexy Johnson on 10/18/2016
Lexy Johnson

Millennial shoppers now outnumber their Baby Boomer counterparts in the U.S., making their documented expectations about seamless commerce experiences a high priority as retailers plan for the future. But what is critical is that in eight years, it’s estimated that Millennials will make up 75% of the world's purchasing class. It’s easy to see why retailers want to understand what makes them tick and use that information to create a unified commerce experience that fosters loyalty based on the drivers that matter to this demographic.

A recent study by Ernst & Young found that 74% of Millennials surveyed shopped online at least once a month. Yet for 60%, speaking with a sales associate before making a purchase in a store was a priority, indicating a predisposition toward in-store shopping. Add to this the fact that “Thumbers” (a moniker referring to user dexterity on small keyboards) were raised on technology, and you can bet they value a technologically advanced experience across all shopping channels.


A recent report from RIS News about Millennials outlined that 92% of retailers feel they need to change their processes to meet the needs of Millennials. In preparation for that, we thought it would be interesting to see how well some large, respected U.S. retailers are delivering Millennials a unified commerce experience. So I sent my team of “secret” shoppers on a quest to buy an item online and pick it up in-store. Each Millennial shopper owns and uses at least 3 devices (phone, laptop, tablet, etc.) and has some experience shopping in-store, online and mobile.

The following reports document their actual experiences—the good, the bad, the lost opportunities. Stay tuned for Part II of this special Millennial series to learn what our shoppers consider key elements of a satisfactory buy online/pick up in store experience.


"Easy online ordering doesn’t match an inconvenient in-store pick-up experience.”

Kudos to the website for clarity about products that are available at a specific store and tabs for different types of purchases, including in-store pickup. Checkout and instructions about how pickup works were very clear. I received an email after my purchase, confirming that my order was being processed and that I would be notified when it was ready for pickup. I received that email an hour later, stating the purchase would be held for a week. Up to this point, all went well.

Unfortunately, my experience deteriorated when I arrived at the store two days later. In the absence of signage indicating where to pick up orders, I wandered around and finally went to the customer service area at the front of the store. I was directed to the very back corner of the store, where a large “Pick Up” sign led to a small, hidden area, which easily could have been mistaken for an employee-only area.

I waited several minutes for my order to be found in a rather crude filing system of a bunch of bins and boxes in what seemed to be loosely alphabetized. Then I simply showed them my I.D. and a copy of the email with the purchase code. 

Experience Impression: Overall, the pickup experience didn’t lead to any engagement in the store. While it served the “purpose,” it seemed to miss the fact that I came into the store as a known customer with a purchase decision; this makes the experience feel impersonal. 

Nordstrom (6th largest apparel e-retailer, 2016 Internet Retailer Global 1000)

“Buy online/pick up in store is limited to store inventory, revealing a weak inventory management that erodes a strong service brand.”

The experience began on a disappointing note, with online purchases available for in-store pickup limited to the store’s inventory. While free standard shipping (delivery in 5-9 days) gives shoppers virtually unlimited options without adding cost, it does not satisfy the need for faster delivery (expedited shipping is extra) and misses the concept of actually wanting to go into the store. This seems to reflect a weakness in getting inventory to where a customer needs it.

Communication was prompt after I submitted an order, with an immediate confirmation that explained I should be able to pick up the item in about an hour. Less than an hour later, a second email indicated my order was ready and provided information I would need for pickup, including directions to the service desk near one of the entrances. A service bonus: For curbside pickup, call the number provided 10 minutes before you arrive – this was a nice service, but I wondered if the value of convenience was beneficial enough instead of encouraging interaction in-store. When I arrived, I was sent to the back of the store where the items are kept. I was presented with the wrong bag initially (someone else’s with the same last name), but when presented with the right item, the person asked if I wanted to try on the item. This did show some level of engagement attempt, but I wondered again: "What if the associate had better visibility into what I purchased or my history? Would they or shouldn’t they make better use of the fact that a customer who made a purchasing decision was actually in the store?"

Experience Impression: Certainly, the pickup experience was quick and pleasant, but lacked any real engagement upon my deciding to come into the store. Seems like a miss to me.


Macy’s (3rd largest apparel e-retailer, 2016 Internet Retailer Global 1000)

“Inconsistent availability of in-store pickup erodes Macy’s credibility and customer loyalty.”

Experience Impression: It was frustrating that despite the claim on Macy’s website, no store within 100 miles of Boston offered in-store pickup.

Bed Bath & Beyond

“Inventory available for store pickup is severely limited, indicating the need for a buy online/ship-to-store option.”

After striking out at my first retailer, I decided to visit bedbathbeyond.com for the first time. The option to search items that were available for in-store pickup seemed almost hidden as a small button that I was quite lucky to find. The blanket I chose came in four colors, although only one color was available for store pickup, probably due to limited store inventory. An option for buying online/delivery to store would have given me the color I really wanted and a better experience, including the benefit of having me visit the store. I received an order confirmation email 10 minutes after placing my order, and another an hour later to let me know that my order was ready for pickup.

Pickup at the store took less than five minutes. The customer service desk was conveniently located at the front of the store, where my purchase was being held. I was impressed and pleased that it took so little time.

Experience Impression: Overall, the process was convenient, though I would have liked the option to come to the store and not be limited in what I could pick up. And while convenient, the process wasn’t an extension of any engagement. The was top notch but didn’t translate into an actual engagement once I was in the store.

Overall, you can see that that the themes are similar, the process in and of itself usually works, but millennials want to come to the store, they want to engage, they want to get something out of the visit. This seems to be the area – unification of the experience – where retailers must focus to capture lost opportunity in the in-store, face-to-face interaction.

Stay tuned for Part II of this special millennial blog report: Millennial Suggestions for a Successful Unified Commerce Experience.

Download the latest RIS News’ “Millennial Makeover” Research report to reveal the six ways retailers need to transform their business to serve the millennial shopper at every stop on their path to purchase.


 Read the RIS News report: Millennial Makeover


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