Research shows Gen Y outnumbers Baby Boomers and Gen X – not only does this affect your store’s hiring choices, but the demographic of your end-consumer.
By Susan Grisham
They aren’t the wealthiest demographic, thanks to the staggering amount of debt they have amassed at a young age, but they are about to become the most influential. Astronomical student loans during one of the longest periods of recession and unemployment in American history has made them thrifty, yet this generation loves brand names and high-tech products and are willing to pay for it.
A new report from the Urban Land Institute, Generation Y: Shopping and Entertainment in the Digital Age, states that the 80-million Gen Y members (ages 18-35) still shop at bricks-and-mortar venues. “Shopping is seen as entertainment and is done alone as well as with family and friends,” the report states. “It is clearly an extension of the social network. Gen Y seeks out high stimulation, requiring retail venues to stay on top of changing trends and regularly upgrade their facilities and offerings.”
The report reveals that more than 50 percent of all Gen Y-ers go at least once a month to the following retail formats:
+discount department stores (91%)
+neighborhood and community shopping centers (74%)
+enclosed malls (64%)
+full-line department stores (64%)
+big box centers (63%)
+chain apparel stores (58%) and
+neighborhood business districts (54%)
The report also states that 91% of Gen Y purchased items online over the past six months, with 45% spending more than one hour per day looking at retail-oriented Web sites. What are they doing? Survey says: researching products, comparing prices, envisioning how clothing/accessories would look on them, or responding to flash sales or coupon offers.
The good news is that purchasing items in bricks-and-mortar stores still dominates, but the study reminds that Gen Y-ers are multi-channel shoppers. For this reason, it is important to have a Web site that is fresh and appealing to this demographic (learn how to do that on page XX). Since this generation has a reputation for getting bored quickly, it’s vital that retailers should refresh their presentation on a frequent basis.
Hiring Gen Y
Often portrayed as temperamental, lazy, self-absorbed, and unmotivated, Gen Y-ers might not be your first choice for employees. However, while their work habits are not exactly in line with older workers, small businesses ‒ and retail in particular ‒ just may be the environment that makes them happy.
According to a study last year by Millennial Branding, a Boston-based research and management consulting firm, and Payscale, the online salary and benefits research company, younger workers are caring and very entrepreneurial. In fact, many of these workers prefer smaller firms. According to the survey, the highest concentration of Gen Y employees (47%) is at smaller companies with less than 100 employees. Part of that reason is that they value the more flexible environments of smaller firms over rigid corporate structures.
While many studies plug the Gen Y group into more high-tech fields, the fact is that with a tough economy many recent graduates are finding themselves on the retail sales floor. According to the Millennial Branding/PayScale survey, Gen Yers are five times as likely to hold a job as a merchandise displayer or on the sales floor despite the fact that they may have a college degree.
Retail may be the one career that suits this age group, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Ellen Davis, executive director of the NRF Foundation, points out that while four out of five Gen Y-ers aren’t considering a career in the retail industry, it would be a disservice not to consider it.
“Spoiler Alert: They want what retail offers – they just don’t know it yet,” Davis claims. “One quarter of young adults feel working for a company whose mission and values match their own is one of the most important characteristics when evaluating a career opportunity. About one in five place importance on a company that gives back to their community, and nearly as many value a company with environmentally responsible practices,” she recently wrote in a blog post on the topic.
Shari Harley, MA, founder and president of Candid Culture ( HYPERLINK “http://www.candidculture.com” www.candidculture.com), an international training and consulting firm, couldn’t agree more. “Millennials want to contribute. Do not discourage a Gen Y candidate, but when you are interviewing, you have to ask the hard questions in a new way,” she explains.
“People will say anything to get a job, so it’s up to the manager to be creative,” Harley notes. “Instead of asking about weaknesses, ask what the Gen Y candidate hates doing and what he/she loves doing. Also ask, ‘What’s something you’ve never had a chance to do?’”
Harley, a speaker at last year’s American Lighting Association (ALA) Conference, also warns hiring managers to spend time to get to know millennials as people. “The corporate culture is important to them. It is who they are and they need to know right away that there are opportunities to grow.”
The NRF Foundation survey confirms that Gen Y-ers are interested in a job with opportunities for growth and advancement. “These young adults don’t want to ‘wait their turn’ to make an impact: 40% want their opinions heard, nearly one-third want their decisions implemented, and one in four wants the opportunity to own and manage projects – all in their very first job,” Davis asserts.
“Managers must understand that millennials do not put up with the same things that other workers will,” warns Harley, the author of the book How to Say Anything to Anyone. “They want to work in a place that’s fun and connected socially. Put them on a path fast and don’t wait to ‘see how it goes.’ You have to have a sense of what they want to do and develop a plan. Make sure they have a mentor and see that the plan comes to light right away. And always ask their opinions. One thing I always hear is, ‘The older employees don’t care what I think.’”
Chicago-based Hireology, a recruitment consultancy, offers companies tools to help attract candidates and sift through resumes. “Millennials are quickly becoming the dominate players in the job market, but because they’re not willing to settle, hiring managers have to employ different recruiting techniques in order to attract them to their companies,” says Erin Borgerson, marketing coordinator.
In its blog last month, Hireology offered three tips employers should use to approach the market. The first is to use social media to recruit. “After all, 52 percent of job seekers took to Facebook to find jobs in 2012,” states Maggie Coffey. “Passion often trumps experience. You can’t teach passion, but you can certainly teach skills…If you come across a recent grad who has the passion you’re looking for but not the skill set, don’t toss them aside just yet. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they learn and dedicate themselves to the job.”
And one last tip – the test drive. Have the candidate meet younger employees, and paint an accurate picture of the job, including the downsides, so they are not surprised when they do take the position.
“We offer [candidates] the chance to come into the office for an hour or two and follow an employee they would be working with,” Coffey says. “This gives the candidate the chance to see what it’s like working at Hireology and it gives us the chance to see how well they mesh with the rest of the team.” The company also offers an e-book, Inside the Mind of a Millennial Job Seeker:
Lighting showrooms: A perfect fit
Many lighting stores are involved in community activities plus many lighting products are designed to save energy and be kinder to the environment. When you decide to hire Gen Y employees, the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School blogger Harrison Kratz offers some tips on motivating them.
“This group generally appreciates meaningful work, social media freedom, and is notorious for always planning a job change.” Kratz advises companies to empower the millennial’s entrepreneurial spirit and always provide quality feedback. “Eighty percent said they would prefer feedback in real time rather than via traditional performance review,” he notes.
And let them grow. “Sixty five percent of millennials say personal development is the most influential factor in their current job.”
Retailers are getting some help in encouraging Gen Y-ers to consider the category. This year the NRF is devoting a big portion of its budget to the “This is Retail” campaign targeting young workers. “We want to help retailers understand what the next generation wants out of a career so they can target and attract top-quality talent,” Davis notes.
For lighting showrooms and designers, adding a millennial to the staff may seem like a lot of work, given the publicity that has surrounded them and advice on how to “handle” such employees for the best results, but it may just be worth it in the long run to gain enthusiastic, project-driven, and socially connected workers.