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Millennials, and their money, are now driving major retail trends

Wondering what’s in store for retail in Western New York in 2016? There are three major trends that picking up steam this year.

Millennials are calling the shots. Millennials are not just trendsetters, they’re serious consumers. By 2017, they’re expected to spend $200 billion annually. They’re also projected to inherit an additional $30 billion from their baby boomer parents in the years to come. So it’s no surprise that 25- to 34-year-olds are driving all the biggest retail and marketing trends. Millennials have grown up fast-forwarding TV commercials and tuning out banner ads, which makes them nearly immune to traditional advertising. They’ll trust a friend’s Instagram post over a sponsored ad any day, and they turn to everyday bloggers and YouTube stars for product information rather than to a manufacturer or retailer itself. Millennials put a premium on authenticity and care about companies’ ethics and social practices and prize transparency. They want a personal connection with the companies they do business with, they want to customize their experiences whenever possible, and they consider quality and convenience paramount.

Why does any of that matter? Because the number of millennials living in the City of Buffalo has increased by 21.6 percent from 2007 to 2014, according to M&T Bank regional economist Gary Keith, gaining 7,800 people in that age group. “Gothamist” ran a story last year called “Millennials are moving to Buffalo and Living Like Kings.” NerdWallet named Western New York one of the best places for millennial job seekers. Insuramatch named Buffalo the number one city for millennials in New York State. That gives local retailers all the more reason to pay attention to them.

Shopping and social media are inseparable. You can thank millennials for this one, too. Social media is a huge and growing influence on how people shop and what they buy. Retailers are pushing into the social space as hard and as fast as they can to leverage the intersection of shopping and sharing.

Buffalo clothier Modern Nostalgia has a blog that feels more like a letter from a fashionable friend than a vehicle to get people to buy clothes. Kegworks’ blog has become a trusted destination for information about all things homebrew. Research + Design in Orchard Park has a beautifully curated Instagram account that feels more like art than advertising.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram have all added “Shop Now” or “Buy” buttons that let consumers shop directly from a retailer’s social media page. Say you’re surfing Facebook and see a post from Cats Like Us, a clothing store in the City of Tonawanda. Click it, and you’ll see a “Shop Now” button that will take you directly to the store’s website.

Organic shares on social media are worth their weight in advertising gold, so retailers are doing everything they can to make their brand a part of customers’ everyday digital conversations.

If you buy tickets for a concert at First Niagara Center, for example, Tickets.com will ask if you want to share on social media that you’ll be at the show – and will do it for you in one click. O’Connell’s Clothing on Main Street transformed the traditional holiday gift guide into a slick infographic that’s easily shareable on Twitter.

Target went from forbidding cell phone pictures inside its stores to encouraging them. It now has devoted spaces in its stores for customers to pose for selfies with a statue of its bull terrier mascot, Bullseye. During the Queen City Pop-Up, Rudeboyz Art Works invited shoppers to share selfies taken in front of an ever-changing wall art backdrop.

Mobile is everything. Computers are so 2014. For most consumers today, smartphones are the center of the universe. Nearly every purchase starts there, and a big chunk of purchases end there. That’s only expected to increase as retailers perfect their apps and their overall mobile shopping experience. In 2015, mobile shopping accounted for $115 billion in sales, according to Forrester Research. By the end of 2016, they’re expected to reach $142 billion.

Retailers caught snoozing on mobile will lose. Nearly a third of shoppers admitted they would give up on a website that is not optimized for mobile, abandoning their shopping transaction and buying from someone else instead, according to mobile insight company Mporium.

But consumers aren’t just using their phones to research purchases and shop online. Phones have become an integral part of shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, too. According to a survey by Deloitte, nearly 80 percent of consumers use their phones while they’re in a store – doing research, comparing prices, reading reviews and searching for coupons. Shoppers also increasingly use their phones as mobile wallets at the cash register to pay for purchases with such apps as Apple Pay and PayPal.

That’s why every mall in Western New York is wired for Wi-Fi, and why every store in the region should be if it’s not already.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com

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