Once upon a time, children used to accompany their parents (mostly their mums) shopping and learned an appreciation of it. That was before we became a society dominated by households with two working parents.
Once upon a time the weekly grocery shop used to be a family affair. That was before we began moving increasingly towards buy to consume.
Once upon a time there used to be plenty of jobs in retail for youth. That was before retail decided labour was a cost centre not a profit centre.
Once upon a time we used to have stores that actively sought to recruit the next generation of shoppers by creating customer experiences that delighted them with the joys of shopping.
But once upon a time was a long time ago.
Today a large section of the retail industry believes that young people are only interested in what appears before their eyes on their mobile phone screen and the rest seem so absorbed in cost cutting and discounting that the next generation is being lost to technology. Not because it is the desired outcome for future shoppers but in many cases because it is the only option that takes any time at all to talk to them.
It is naive to think that technology has not changed all our retail lives – forever – let alone the youngest generations. However it is also naive to abandon future generations of shoppers and to fail to see the looming implications of that abandonment.
If you walk into any shopping centre during school holiday times you will find tribes of kids roaming the mall looking for something to do. Over 50,000 years of physiological evolution has hotwired the ‘pack’ mentality into all of us. We are social and we are physical. Only evolution over millennia can change that. Shopping has the capability to tick a lot of sub-conscious and emotional boxes for all generations.
However, maximising outcomes from any target audience requires attention and the careful execution of initiatives that talk to that audience in a way that makes them feel valued and encourages and stimulates them to productively engage. The number of retailers that actively do this with younger generations today could be counted on one hand.
As an industry, all stakeholders need to embrace an investment of time, energy and money in the induction and engagement of future generations of potential shoppers, demonstrating to them why physical retail is not only the most efficient method of the distribution of goods and services but also the most emotionally, physiologically and intellectually rewarding form of consumption.
Physical retail will not – and quite frankly cannot – stand on its own in isolation. It is already a part of a consumer led, customer centric model that combines physical and virtual shopping into an individually determined customised solution set. But in physical retail we need to create more employment, merchandising, experiential and engagement opportunities with youth to grow future opportunity for productive physical retail growth. Without attention we run the risk of becoming a commoditised option or worse still, irrelevant.
Peter James Ryan is chief executive navigator at Red Communication Australia, and has 25 years of marketing and business experience.