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To Reach Young Shoppers, Go to Their Fingertips

How many more brick-and-mortar stores do we really need? Not many more, according to Dan O’Connor, president and CEO of RetailNet Group

How many more brick-and-mortar stores do we really need?

Not many more, according to Dan O’Connor, president and CEO of RetailNet Group and another of the thought-provoking speakers at the FMI Future Connect event in Dallas in May. O’Connor’s company is a “transformational strategy” firm that works with large retailers and brands, and his research leads him to believe that store growth, at least in developed markets, will be stagnant in the future because of fundamental changes in shopping habits. Changes driven by today’s younger shoppers—those born after 1985—who are not locked into brick-and-mortar shopping as their first and most desirable shopping option.

Most have laptops, tablets and/or smartphones and are comfortable (maybe even ­addicted to) using them wherever they are to watch TV, movies or YouTube videos, listen to music, chat, blog, post a status, play games (“Angry Birds” is real difficult to put down, I’ve heard) and shop.

The Shelby Report Grocery News“E-commerce takes share from buildings,” pointed out O’Connor, who also noted that the number of digital-only transactions is ­expected to triple by 2020. “We will discover this decade we have too many stores.”

But O’Connor doesn’t advise retailers to just give up on trying to get younger shoppers into their physical stores, the ones they’ve already built. Shoppers between the ages of 25 and 55 are the ones who spend the most money in food stores, so he says it’s a “most important project” for the store-based food retailer to get the under-25 crowd excited about coming to their store.

Kathy Tyburowski of The Nielsen Co. took up the topic of today’s youth and how they engage with the media in a recent column in the daily IGA e-newsletter, The Independent View. She focused on this year’s high school graduates, born around 1993, down to 12-year-olds. Kids between 12 and 17 are the heaviest mobile video viewers, watching an average of more than seven hours of mobile video a month. More than half of kids in this age range surveyed by Nielsen last September said they “always” or “sometimes” look at mobile ads. Teens 13 to 17 sent an average of 3,364 mobile texts per month in the first quarter of this year—more than twice as many as the next-most-active texters, those 18 to 24 (at a mere 1,640 a month). Nearly 80 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds visit social networks or blogs, and they watch the least amount of TV on average. So reaching younger shoppers requires emails, texts and ­social media messaging; TV and newspaper won’t be where they’re looking for information about your weekly specials.

Successful social media, according to another Future Connect speaker, Jeff Molander of Molander & Associates, solves a problem for the consumer or gives them information they can use to make a difference in their lives.

Harris Teeter is soliciting questions from shoppers for the chain’s dietitian, actually paying them for their questions so it can have its finger on their pulse and act as a guide for them in nutrition matters, Molander said. “In-store ­activities line up with this,” which makes Harris Teeter’s social media ­efforts “congruent” with its overall marketing stance, he added.

Whole Foods Market offers an app that makes meal suggestions based on what a consumer already has in the pantry. That’s solving a problem, catering to a need.

I noticed during Future Connect that people of all ages are very ­reliant on their technology. At every break between sessions, just about everybody pulled out their devices to check their texts, emails and voicemails before getting around to the face-to-face networking the breaks are designed to foster. I only recently got a smartphone, but wow, I already understand the panicked look on my kids’ faces when they have misplaced their phones.

These devices are now woven into the fabric of our lives, and while you can argue whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing—or a little of both—food retailers have to figure out how to use them.

Since Dan O’Connor says we really don’t need that many more new stores, hiring a digital marketing staff might be a sound investment. I hear there are a lot of new college ­graduates looking for work, and they could be invaluable in charting your digital course.

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