Given the size, growth and spending power of the millennial generation, it is no surprise that both understanding and appealing to this cohort are at the forefront of retailers’ minds.
Millennials are unlike any other generation. They are digitally savvy and connected, authenticity and novelty seeking, and demanding customized experiences — which creates both a challenge around how to appeal to their unique demands and an opportunity to genuinely connect with this generation to tap into their $200-billion annual buying power.
Today’s convenience stores already have a leg up, with millennials turning more and more to these retailers for food and beverage purchases over the past few years. The NPD Group estimates that c-stores accounted for more than 11 percent of millennials’ food and beverage stops last year.
Nevertheless, there are ways in which c-stores specifically can better appeal to this cohort:
Capture Late Night Cravings
More than half of millennials eat three or more snacks per day, creating multiple dayparts that c-stores can activate against. However, the late night demand window may be the most unique to this generation, with GrubHub finding that millennial consumers are 87 percent more likely to order food between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., and more than twice as likely to choose a c-store for snacking needs.
Quick-service restaurants, an increasingly direct competitor for c-store food purchases, have already begun to take action on appealing to millennials through late night deals. Wendy’s developed “Moonlight Meal Deals” to meet millennials’ needs for convenient and quick late night food for under $5. Similarly, Jack in the Box rolled out “Munchie Meals,” and Steak n’ Shake offers half-priced milkshakes between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
It is now c-stores’ turn to leverage existing demand windows — late nights and weekends — to create occasions and drive incremental traffic. Consider late night snack promotions, cross-promotion of popular late night snack pairings, or in-store events during nighttime demand windows.
In addition to developing a stronger connection with millennial consumers, this strategy will help retailers capture new shoppers and build loyalty during times of the day that are typically low-traffic periods.
Make Food & Beverage Offers Shareable
The millennial generation is focused on sharing their meals and snacks. This includes both physically sharing with friends and digitally sharing. The Hartman Group estimates that nearly half of millennials use social media while eating and drinking, with a quarter posting photos of what they’re eating.
This dynamic is consistent among millennials in the c-store environment as well, with this generation tending to shop with others instead of alone. Retailers have an opportunity to capitalize on the social nature of this generation through strategic portions that can be shared; promotion of multiples for group trips to the store; and through leveraging social media to drive new shoppers and build loyalty among current ones.
Consider two times or 1.5 times the normal portions to create shareable snacks and meals, especially during the peak millennial hours of late nights and weekends. Buy two, get one deals are a powerful way to build baskets and celebrate social snacking.
Finally, connect digitally with millennial shoppers through social media. Consider developing contests for posted pictures of your products, or a snack occasion hashtag to drive engagement.
Keep It Exciting
Millennials crave novelty, whether it manifests itself as new experiences, brands or tastes. They are less willing to habitually choose the same item or flavor to eat, seeking a new variety with each new occasion.
Within c-stores, assortment can be leveraged as a way in which retailers can differentiate themselves. Winning with millennials will require stores to deliver the novelty and variety they are seeking, or risk losing that purchase to another store or channel.
C-stores have an opportunity to keep millennials excited and engaged through loyalty programs, limited-time offers and wider assortment. Consider surprise deals or customized offers for loyalty card members, limited-edition products and flavors, in-store contests, or Throwback Thursday (TBT) offerings to play on nostalgia and further encourage social sharing. Identify millennials’ most common purchases and ensure the assortment meets their demand for variety.
In these ways, retailers can ensure they are perceived as the only place to get certain items and experiences.
While many consider millennials to be a hard group to please given their particular preferences and values, there are relatively simple ways to connect with them. The time is right to focus on meeting this cohort’s needs as these consumers are entering their prime earning and spending years. Retailers and brands that can engage today’s millennials may reap the benefits of their future spending power.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.