How to Prepare for the Next Generation of Shoppers

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All retailers want to be the brand their customers can’t live without. But truthfully, customer expectations are a moving target and it’s tough to be on top of every trend, every preference and every new channel that customers are prioritizing. The best way to meet and exceed customer expectations is to anticipate what’s coming next.

Marketers were caught off guard by millennials. They were too slow to change, and that’s why we’ve seen legendary retailers like Sears and Toys”R”Us close their doors. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes with the new generations of shoppers. A recent survey of 4,000 consumers across the U.S. yielded crucial information that will help brands anticipate the needs of their youngest shoppers.

The Future is Direct to Consumer

The up-and-coming generations of shoppers will be digital natives, born with instant access to countless sources of information. For them, searching multiple sites isn’t an inconvenience, it’s second nature.

For brands, this means showing up across social media,, product review sites, contact centers, voice assistants, wearables, search engines and, of course, their own websites. In fact, the data showed that the youngest generation of shoppers (under 24) are the most likely of all age groups to visit a brand’s website, and the least likely to visit Amazon first. We’re used to hearing about Amazon every day, but for future shoppers it won’t be the first or only touchpoint — it will be one of many.

Being present across channels is great, but to truly turn tech-savvy browsers into buyers, brands will need to do the following:

  1. Have a flawless website. This is the bare minimum when it comes to taking customers on a journey and showing them which accessories pair with which products, how to customize, etc. Website overhauls are tough, but with the youngest shoppers demanding a flawless direct-to-consumer experience, it will be well worth the time and effort.
  2. Invest now in search engine optimization. Knowing the highest-ranking keywords that apply to various products is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity to show up in search engines.
  3. Know what you’re selling. With e-commerce and ROPO (researching online, purchasing offline) ever on the rise, most brands sell pure information until the customer actually has the product in hand. Keeping information consistent across the board allows brands to show up well across all channels.
  4. Get on board with voice commerce. The survey data shows that using a voice assistant to order a product is gaining traction, and doesn’t figure to slow down any time soon. While Amazon currently has a monopoly in this space, its ability to recommend its own products over all others on the platform won’t last. The brands that have the most robust product information and reviews figure to win in this space.
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Returns Will Become Yet Another Channel in an Omnichannel World

Shoppers are increasingly buying products with the intent to return them. While the number of U.S. shoppers who purchase with intent to return is currently more than one in three, that likelihood rises even further the younger the shopper. The majority of 16-to-24-year-olds report they buy with the intent to return, while only 19 percent of shoppers ages 65-plus say the same. This is tough for retailers, where revenue and margins matter.

We can’t change the trends, all we can do is adapt. Brands that choose to use returns as yet another touchpoint to engage with their customers will win in the end, as it’s ultimately an opportunity to understand why they aren’t keeping the product. These insights provide context into the overall buying experience, shine a light on necessary product updates, and even let retailers know when it’s time to remove a product from the digital shelf.

Rapidly changing trends and buyer preferences are overwhelming. For brands seeking to change but don’t know where to start, focus on your main strength: your products. With so many different touchpoints and channels to reach consumers — and voice assistants needing to quickly decipher data — accurate and consistent product information has never been a higher priority.

Steve Gershik is chief marketing officer at inRiver, a product information management (PIM) solution.

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