Retailers gear up to capture the millennial shopper

Stores and malls are introducing social media-friendly concepts and customising products to draw the attention and spending of this demographic group

The millennial demographic - known for their tech prowess and resourcefulness - makes the group a tough one for retailers to reel in.

Nonetheless, brands and shopping malls are pulling out all the stops to capture and keep the attention of this cohort, transforming their business strategies as a result.

Retailers here, such as personal care brand Watsons, jewellery brand Monica Vinader, pop star Rihanna's beauty brand Fenty Beauty, as well as malls, including JCube and Ion Orchard, are taking steps to cater to the retail needs of this group, born between 1982 and 2004.

The reason is simple: No retailer can afford to bypass this market.

A report released by research consultancy Accenture last year showed that millennials represent more than 45 per cent of AsiaPacific's population, with 60 per cent of the world's millennials expected to live in Asia by 2020.

They are influential and easily influenced - millennials who are clued into social media and sites such as YouTube are more open to receiving and taking advice than other customer segments, says the report.

And most importantly, they have cash to spend. According to the report, millennials in Asia will have more spending power than any previous generation, with an estimated US$6 trillion (S$8.07 trillion) in disposable income by 2020.

Leading the charge in Singapore is Watsons, with its store in Bugis Junction completely revamped this month to focus on the millennial cohort, which currently makes up about 30 per cent of its customer base here.

Millennials in Asia will have more spending power than any previous generation, with an estimated US$6 trillion (S$8.07 trillion) in disposable income by 2020.

Ms Irene Lau, chief operating officer of Watsons Singapore, says the decision to launch the Gen Y concept store in Bugis was carefully thought out, given that Bugis is a hot spot for youth and that outlet is one of the company's top 10 stores in terms of size and sales performance.

The refurbishment, done in three phases over a month, says Ms Lau, had to be more than a superficial renovation of the premises.

"We thought carefully about the needs of Gen Y, down to how they are socially connected and have a desire to try new products and experiences," she says.

"It means an evolution away from how our stores normally look and feel. It's important to have this change so that we can better engage with this growing demographic of consumer."

The new Bugis store features an open plan layout, a hot pink runway down its centre and floor staff who don a casual get-up of jeans and brightly coloured T-shirts, in place of the usual corporate uniforms.

Instead of being categorised by brand, many of the beauty products are displayed by function as millennials supposedly favour experimentation over brand loyalty.

The store also stocks more under-the-radar brands that have gained traction on social media, such as K-beauty brands April Skin and W.Lab.

Peppered around the store are digital screens and multimedia platforms that play how-to beauty videos, instead of the static print branding displays of yore.

There is also an in-store app that shoppers can use to see how a make-up product will look like on their faces.

"It's features like these that really cater to the needs of an inquisitive, digitally savvy consumer," says Ms Lau.

Malls such as CapitaLand's JCube in Jurong are now factoring in how "Instagrammable" a concept is before it is introduced to the shopping complex.

JCube's centre manager, Mr Augustine Ow, says that one of the most important elements of bringing new concepts into the mall is whether they translate well in social media.

"Because the shopping preferences of millennials change so fast and they are constantly looking up new trends on social media, it is important that retailers tap this by offering concepts that engage well with younger consumers," he says.

The options for shorter leases of one to three years in the mall also give the management the chance to refresh concepts more often so that things are kept exciting for consumers.

One of the six-storey mall's newest tenants, dessert cafe Fart Tartz, was given a prime central spot on level two of the mall because its garden-esque design for the space is deemed attractive to the mall's younger customers.

JCube also launched a carefully curated cluster of 19 vending machines earlier this month, allowing shoppers to buy hot food, apparel, knick-knacks and even sing karaoke - tapping into the recent trend of vending-machine cafes.

Named #PlayatJCube The Corner, the 90 sq m space is designed around a cosy seating area under an artificial skylight panel, perfect for snapping selfies.

Through a tie-up with Lazada, the mall also offers a click-and-collect service that was launched last month, where customers can pick up items they buy on that e-commerce site.

The locker area is outfitted with a changing room so customers can try on the products they bought online and immediately return those they do not want.

And for retailers such as British jewellery brand Monica Vinader, Italian luxury brand Gucci and British fashion house Burberry, offering personalisation has become key.

Monica Vinader has taken Gen Y's penchant for personalisation to the next level by allowing customers to customise their pieces with a message, motif or hand-drawn doodle, in a bid to make their accessories one-of-a-kind.

For an easy and seamless process, iPads are available in Monica Vinader stores for customers to get personalised engravings and select their collection schedule.

Apart from the complimentary engraving services, styling ideas are also shared via the iPads for trendy millennials to visualise how the products can be stacked and styled together.

The jewellery brand, with two stores in Singapore, has more than 180,000 followers on its Instagram account, which often features customers' pictures as a way to build a community and market its pieces.

At Ion Orchard, brands such as Gucci, Burberry and ice-cream brand Magnum are offering customisation options for customers.

In January, Gucci opened a new store at Ion Orchard - the first in South-east Asia with a do-it-yourself section.

With prices starting at $6,080, the service allows customers to personalise the label's iconic Dionysus bags with various patches featuring designs of bumble bees, butterflies, lizards, dragonflies, snakes, roses and peonies.

Magnum lets customers personalise their desserts at a standalone store in the mall, offering a more "Instagrammable" version of their products.

There are more than 11,500 pictures on Instagram taken at the Magnum Pleasure stores around the world.

To capture and keep the attention of millennials, however, takes more than a pretty facade.

Mr Teo Correia, a senior managing director in Accenture's consumer goods and services practice, describes millennials as "more difficult to predict, increasingly segmented and devoted to powerful brands and engaging shopping experiences".

"To win their loyalty, it is imperative for brands to keep it simple, but make it personal using data-driven applications," he says.

And for young shoppers such as public relations executive Ryan Foo, 26, the evolution towards engagement he is seeing at many stores these days is a promising one.

"I like that there are more stores that are using social media to share useful tips and how-tos these days, instead of just pushing products through static advertisements.

"I also appreciate that many brands are offering more avenues for us to get products that are unique or customisable. In an era where information is passed around so quickly, we are all finding ways to try and stand out."

Jcube mall

Introduction of instagrammable concepts

Dessert cafe Fart Tartz, a new tenant in JCube, has a prime spot on level two of the mall because its garden-esque design is deemed attractive to younger customers.


Curating a cluster of vending machines

Housing 19 vending machines, a cosy space called #PlayatJCube The Corner is where shoppers can buy hot food, apparel, knick-knacks and even sing karaoke.

Collection stations for online purchases

JCube offers a click-and-collect service where customers can pick up items they buy on e-commerce site Lazada, complete with a locker area that has a changing room for shoppers to try on their clothing purchases.

British jewellery brand monica vinader

Customisation of merchandise

Using iPads that are available in-store, customers can personalise their jewellery pieces with complimentary engravings of a message, motif or hand-drawn doodle and also select collection date.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2017, with the headline 'Retailers out to woo millennial shoppers'. Subscribe