Decoding Millennials – A Q&A with Blueport Commerce President and CEO, Carl Prindle

September 23, 2014

Ah, Millennials. This generation is a challenging demographic, especially when it comes to the marketing, buying and selling of furniture. Last week, Blueport Commerce President and CEO, Carl Prindle, participated on the panel, “Peer-to-Peer Marketing to Your Own Generation”  at the inaugural Furniture/Today Future Leadership Conference in New Orleans, LA. Read on to learn what he shared and the insights he’s gleaned from Millennial consumer behavior that can help furniture retailers unlock a non-traditional audience.

Decoding Millennials

Q: What’s the biggest buying misconception that you have found about the Millennial group?

Carl:  There are a lot of perceptions about Millennials – some good, some bad.  On one hand, Millennials have the reputation of being incredibly self-determined, energetic and creative.  On the other, people (particularly people older than them!) think of Millennials as wildly entitled and narcissistic.

A lot of marketers focus on marketing to Millennials based on the positives.  We’ve found it interesting to break down the negatives – ‘entitled’ and ‘narcissistic’ – to understand why Millennials have earned this perception and what it means about their buying patterns and the changing nature of today’s consumer environment.

Q: Tell us a little more about that. What’s really behind Millennials being perceived as ‘entitled’ and ‘narcissistic’?

Carl: On the surface, the notion that Millennials are ‘entitled’ suggests the idea that they’ve been handed everything on a silver platter and therefore, expect everything to be easy.  That’s not entirely correct.  In reality, Millennials expect things to be efficient.  They have little tolerance for things more complicated than they need to be.  They’ve grown up with elegant solutions that make things simple, and woe to the brand or retailer that makes things hard.

We think this is actually an opportunity.  By making things easy, you can attract Millennials to things they’ve never bought before.  Take Uber, for example.  If you asked a car service company a few years back what their “Millennial strategy” was, they’d have looked at you like you were insane.  Uber comes along, utilizing mobile and geolocation technology, and now the process of using a car service is efficient, easy, fun.  And now, on any given night, half the black cars in Boston are full of Millennials.

The business of furniture, or rather, the way Millennials want to shop for furniture, is not so different.  If you make it easy – translate ‘entitled’ to efficiency-seeking – you can reach an audience that you, like the car service industry, might have thought beyond your reach.

Q: And the ‘narcissistic’ piece of the perception?

Carl: On the surface (pun intended in this case) ‘narcissistic’ suggests ‘it’s all about me.’  In reality, we see this translated as Millennials expecting to be treated as individuals.  This generation was raised being told they’re special and different, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that they hate being treated as a lump sum demographic. They want to feel an individual connection with a brand, and that it’s doing something for them personally.  If you look at typical furniture marketing this way, it raises some interesting questions.  What’s so personal about a ‘20% Off’ sale, or ‘No No No Financing’ until 2017?

Instead of viewing Millennials as entitled and narcissistic, I see them as people looking for efficiency and for personalized, individual relationships.  That’s something furniture retailers and marketers can act on.  When it comes to buying furniture, their aspirations are the same as other generations – to express themselves and create beautiful homes.  It’s how you enable them and speak to them about how to do that that’s different.

Q: After figuring out those misconceptions, what best practices have you made part of your marketing mantra at Blueport Commerce?

Carl: We encourage our furniture retail clients to look through these lenses of efficiency and personalization.

We often ask, the question: is your shopping experience efficient?  It’s a simple equation, really: value received / time and effort. If you look at your business through this lens of ‘bringing value to the consumer with minimal time and effort’ you’ll see some things you are doing that won’t make sense to Millennials, and get ideas for some things you should be doing.

For example, the retailers on our platform use a technology that makes the web-to-store experience really easy – it efficiently enables everything a consumer wants to do when shopping for furniture – research online in the comfort of their own home or on the go (or both), touch and feel in a store, share and consult with friends, etc.  We’ve found marketing the efficiency and ease of this omnichannel experience is more effective than any discount or promotion you can offer this group of up-and-coming shoppers.

The second lens we help our clients with is personalization.  How can we make the shopping experience feel like a one-on-one conversation?  Because Millennials are immune to broad branding efforts and promotions, leveraging technology to create personal and personalized interactions is something we spend a lot of time figuring out.   It really comes down to a shopper’s relationship with a product, their questions or concerns at that moment, and enabling them to find that perfect, personalized match.

One bit of brainstorming we’ve done takes this to an extreme: Let’s put ecommerce aside for a moment:  Imagine your furniture site instead as a DATING site.  Through this very personalized lens, are there ways you can foster these furniture ‘relationships’?

Q: Thanks, Carl. Any last thoughts to share on marketing to Millennials?

Carl: I think it’s a really interesting time for furniture retail on many levels. Technology is transforming how people shop, and a new generation – one that is entirely digitally native – is rethinking their relationship with every aspect of retail. The good news is that these trends are convergent – technology can help create the right relationships with these up-for-grabs shoppers.  At Blueport, we’re having a great time helping our clients differentiate by doing just that.