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The Future of Small Business Rests on the Shoulders of the Elusive Millennial

BY CSA STAFF

By Jill Puleri, [email protected]

For retailers, brands and marketers, the millennials have created quite the conundrum. This segment makes up a large part of the consuming world — around 95 million consumers in the U.S. alone. And with $1.7 billion in spending muscle to flex, their influence is only going to increase as the years roll by. By 2030, they will outnumber the vaunted baby boomers by more than 20 million.

Millennials represent the first generation who practically sleep with their laptops and mobile devices — constantly stimulated, yet perpetually seeking more. Unlike previous generations, they display an insatiable desire and high comfort level with new technologies, celebrate cultural diversity, publically share personal thoughts and feelings, expect on-demand access to entertainment and instant gratification, and practice, no, are experts at extreme multitasking. 


With two teenage sons, I have found myself checking off their list to Santa this past year one electronic gadget at a time. From gaming systems to Bluetooth music streaming devices, my sons have taken me to the popular YouTube to show me the product reviews by consumers who are, guess what, millennials! As younger generations continue to influence markets, the time to secure their customer loyalty is now. For small businesses, how can they make a dent in a world where each millennial has the ability to connect with thousands of people with a click of a button? As we move full speed ahead in a world with virtually infinite options, small business retailers are finding that they aren’t too different from their digitally-savvy market base. To begin, entrepreneurship is a shared value. According to American Express Open Form, three-quarters of millennials say they want to work for themselves one day — meaning they see small businesses as somewhat of entrepreneurial kindred spirits. Especially when it comes to green business and grassroots campaigns, millennials are the biggest advocates of these initiatives, often considering business operators as their peers.

Similarly, younger populations place more value on businesses they trust, which in turn is largely influenced by the opinions of their social communities. In fact, they prefer knowing more about where their products and services come from and who’s behind them, making small businesses the ideal candidate to do business with.

In addition, these empowered consumers are extremely optimistic about the ability of business and government to influence global change. They are more likely than non-millennials to purchase products that support a cause, and when they make direct donations, they will likely donate through mobile devices. With these new emerging consumer needs — the desire to be recognized, share opinions and information and be part of groups that make a difference — is bringing a new dimension to brand loyalty. And as soon as these millennial consumers start engaging, the viral element of social means the reach extends from simple loyalty to the power of influencing. To capitalize on that influence, small businesses can use this social data to create better recommendations and promotions that enrich the user experience. In addition, they need to make sure that their product information is seamlessly available in all forms — mobile, in-store, online — so that millennials can access it anytime, anywhere at the drop of a hat.

While many small businesses don’t have the luxury of placing a large number of small bets across a wide variety of marketing activities to target this group, these retailers know they need to respond quickly — on their terms – and take the time to get to know them. Small businesses, in particular, can play up their connection with their local community by holding local events or producing local merchandise to get these consumers to keep returning. 


Understanding what resonates well with these consumers can help bring insight and impact into developing products, services and promotions, enabling retailers to break through this challenging and influential segment. 


Smaller businesses must keep pace with this new, highly engaged generation while they tweet while watching TV, text while shopping, Facebook while listening to music — all across a multitude of platforms. Things like offering free Wi-Fi are simply the norm nowadays, and it’s not what Millennials want, but rather, what they expect. Confronted with this millennial reality, retailers are in the midst of evolving the way they are serving these consumers — rethinking current practices and experimenting with new channels and tactics to grab and keep their attention. Simple “big retailer” practices, like launching a retailer’s homepage when customers log into Wi-Fi, are powerful, yet mighty tactics to engage customers and lock in their loyalty for a lifetime. It is new way of thinking, but if small businesses truly want to reach and connect with millennials, they need to engage in methods and media where millennials live every day, and they need to do it now.

Jill Puleri is VP and global retail industry Leader, IBM Global Business Services. She can be reached at [email protected].


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Report: E-tailers’ 2013 top priority is site optimization

BY Katherine Boccaccio

New York — A report released Monday at Retail’s BIG Show in New York City by Shop.org and Forrester Research found that as shoppers become increasingly connected, online retailers in 2013 will get back to basics, focusing on strategies and tactics to improve the customer experience and increase web conversion and loyalty across all devices.

According to the 2013 State of Retailing Online survey, more than half (51%) of retailers surveyed say their top priority for 2013 is site optimization, including checkout optimization, alternative payments, user experience, testing, and product detail page enhancements.

“Retailers have responded to rapidly evolving customer use of mobile devices, dedicating much of the past 12 to 18 months to developing and testing rich mobile offerings for both customers and store associates,” said Shop.org executive director Vicki Cantrell. “While direct mobile commerce is still small, mobile services are now an established and significant part of the shopping experience. Retailers this year are smartly investing to create a holistic customer experience across stores, desktop, and mobile to improve conversion rates, grow crucial repeat customer business, and even capture their share of customer demand from international markets.”

Additionally, 43% of retailers surveyed note that mobile and tablets are among their top three priorities for 2013. These companies plan to invest in new or improved mobile apps and mobile-optimized sites, analytics, and traffic and conversion growth. Among other customer experience investments this year, more than one-quarter (27%) of retailers surveyed plan to prioritize site redesign, including overhauling the “look and feel” and implementing responsive design changes.

Overall, online retail remains healthy. According to the survey, more than half (58%) of those surveyed say their conversion rates in 2012 grew over 2011, and many companies say their cart abandonment rate was either stable or even down compared to 2011. And while respondents are split regarding mobile’s impact on conversion rates, the study shows a net positive impact: 36% of retailers surveyed say that mobile sales and traffic have helped their company’s overall web conversion rate, while 29% have felt a negative impact.

With fewer new shoppers to attract these days, online retailers have fewer opportunities for new customer acquisitions, so they are more focused on retaining and driving value for existing shoppers. According to the survey, more than half (53%) say they have been able to increase the average order value for repeat customers over the past year, and another half (52%) of those surveyed have seen an increase in their repeat customer rate.

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Loehmann’s selects MID Retail’s planning and allocation software

BY Katherine Boccaccio

New York — MID Retail Inc. announced Monday that discount fashion retailer Loehmann’s has selected its Advanced Merchandise Planning and Advanced Allocation software to forecast store-level demand, accurately generate buying plans, and intelligently manage the flow of merchandise to retail stores.

“MID Retail’s tight integration between the planning and allocation processes, as well as its ability to completely automate our allocation workflows, will make our headquarters personnel more productive and ensure our customers experience strong in-stock positions at all our stores,” said Josh Rosenfeld, SVP planning and allocation for Loehmann’s.

Because Loehmann’s buys merchandise opportunistically, its buying processes aren’t strictly tied to particular seasons, brands or styles, according to the company. Its merchants need to plan for a full line of apparel available across the categories and sizes its customers want to find in each individual store – without always knowing what specific merchandise will fulfill the customer needs. As Loehmann’s buyers are able to acquire the actual merchandise, the company must then intelligently allocate to its stores based on real-time customer demand.

After reviewing a number of different software options, Loehmann’s selected MID’s Advanced Merchandise Planning and Advanced Allocation software because of its ability to add value across all of Loehmann’s sophisticated forecasting, planning, and allocation processes.

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