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Conference Report: Enough With Millennials — It’s Time For Retail Radicals to Embrace NOW’ers

NEW YORK, NY; August 2, 2018—If you’re not looking at the NOW’ers (aka Generation Z or the Post-Millennials), you’re already behind in the retail and marketing wars, says Kathy Sheehan, EVP/GM of GfK Consumer Trends, a market research organization.

And if you think that the only difference between NOW’ers and Millennials is that the NOW’ers are even more tech savvy, you’re totally going to miss the opportunities for reaching a currently 15-25 year-old cohort that comprises 26% of the population — greater than the Millennials or the Boomers.

Speaking yesterday at the Annual Retail Forum at Columbia Business School —Retail Radicals, presented by The Robin Report, Sheehan outlined the characteristics of this soon-to-be overarching market:

  • In the U.S., NOW will comprise 30% of the population by 2020, 47% of them non-white.
  • Globally — and Sheehan said the U.S. mirrors the global findings — 84% have at least one major stressor; 47% say they don’t have enough free time. Their #1 pressure: Themselves. #2: Money.
  • They are less likely than Millennials were at the same age to aspire to prestigious brands; 48% strongly agree they want “good value for the money.”
  • Security will be imperative — financial security, which manifests itself in NOW’ers’ thriftiness (compared to Millennials penchant for aspirational brands), and both online and physical security.
  • NOW’ers are more attuned to privacy than the members of any other generation, with Sheehan believing that will have major implications for the development of artificial intelligence (AI) applications.
  • Similar to Millennials, NOW’ers will continue to delay growing up life cycle events including moving out, marrying, and having kids.
  • Tech proficiency ranks only #6 among 18 perceptions of self among this group, though 68% believe they are tech savvy.
  • Convenience is important to them: 37% say they will pay more for products that make their lives easier.
  • “It’s possible they’ll never go into a physical store.” [That’s a contention every other speaker disagreed with in the course of the day-long event.]
  • Rising values for NOW: Creativity, internationalism, ambition, equality, knowledge, learning, thrift, and social tolerance. Declining values: Sex, being youthful, individuality. “Ten years ago everything was about customization and personalization. Not now, not for this group,” said Sheehan.

In a spirited Q&A, one audience member commented that social tolerance extends only to those they agree with, otherwise “they’ll shout you down.” (Sheehan was taken aback but acknowledged that this is “an age of extreme polarization.” Another questioner wanted to know if the GfK findings differentiated between urban and rural NOW’ers, suggesting that there would be differences. (The GfK data, some of which was first released about a year ago, is not broken down that way, but Sheehan noted that the similarities in major cities globally are striking.)

Observations from other speakers throughout the day:

  • Every retailer has the same 1 million online customers. A retailer won’t get all of them all the time. But getting beyond that million is very difficult.
  • We’re smart enough to know we don’t know where retail will be in 2 years.

David Strasser, SWaN and Legend Venture Partners

  • From an investment perspective, outstanding management with a mediocre idea is better than weak management with a great idea.

Jill Granoff, Eurazeo Brands

  • People want less shit, smaller homes so they can spend more on experiences. How do we service that consumer with real value and convenience?

Alex Brick, SWaN and Legend Venture Partners

  • People are getting tired of fast fashion.
  • Commenting on the downturn in apparel retailing: People bought too many clothes.

Millard “Mickey” Drexler, legendary retailer who founded Old Navy and variously led The Gap, J. Crew, and others

  • Some customers want convenience, others want value, and still others want curation.

David Katz, Randa Associates

  • Retail radicals that are models for others: Amazon, Costco, Apple, Casper, Best Buy.
  • Retail brands that have successfully reinvented themselves: Best Buy; TJX nameplates TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods; Ikea; Zara.
  • Top 3 retailers in need of radical leadership: Walmart, Nordstrom, Macy’s.

Mark A. Cohen, consultant and professor.

  • Barriers to retail radicals’ success: leadership, culture, capital, and speed.

Robin Lewis, consultant, publisher of The Robin Report.

  • “There’s a panicked, freaking out search firm looking for a new CEO for Penney.”

Mark Bozek, LiveRocket

  • “If I were running Penney, I’d let it go. Same for K-mart and Sears. We have too many stores anyway.”

Paul Charron, former Chairman, Liz Claiborne