The Secret to Understanding Millennial Consumers Is Surprisingly Simple

Last week, I went to a screening of Jurassic World at Universal CityWalk, an entertainment complex near my home in Hollywood, Calif. As I watched the film’s marauding villain, a 40-foot-tall genetically-designed dinosaur known as Indominus rex, make mincemeat of the stegosauruses, brontosauruses, and assorted prehistoric creatures that littered its path, I couldn’t help but think back to a presentation I attended at JCK Las Vegas last month, during which Matthew Ego, principal and director of Unique Settings, made some predictions that called to mind the fate of the original dinosaurs.

“If the independent jeweler doesn’t change, they’re an endangered species,” he said.

Ego, who was leading a bridal clinic at the Unique Settings booth, stressed the importance of catering to millennials. “The buying power of this generation is larger than any other group out there,” he said. “They’re reaching marrying age and that means jewelers have an opportunity to capture them as customers for life.”

He cited a series of statistics about the prized consumers in the millennial age bracket (25–34)—many gleaned from The Knot’s latest engagement and bridal jewelry study—that shed some light on why the industry has gotten its knickers into such a bunch over them.

They account for $60 billion in annual spending, Ego said. “What are they looking for? Variety, customization, and differentiation in design. Where are they researching? Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google. The millennial always needs to be connected.”

“Sixty-five percent of millennials favor experiences over possessions,” he continued, citing the growing demand for “retail-tainment.” “The independent jeweler has to understand: Millennials need a story.”

I was impressed with Ego’s persuasive and well-researched presentation, but he wasn’t saying anything that I hadn’t heard before. Until he said this:

“They need to be entertained. Why? A millennial needs shareable content. We need something to post on Instagram and Snapchat. Are you giving them something to share? Are you giving them that content?”

I’d never thought about a retailer’s success with millennial consumers as a reflection of his or her ability to provide shareable content, but when I consider my own (Gen X) consumerism, it’s true that the things I’m most passionate about are the same things that appear on my Instagram feed.

“Why will a millennial share their meal and not the jewelry they just purchased?” Ego asked. “Because it’s entertainment over possessions. They have a fear of missing out.… Everybody in a jewelry store needs to be telling a story.”

By now, you’ve probably heard that last piece of advice a thousand times—storytelling as a path to sales. But what does it mean in practice? At the very least, it means knowing about the merchandise you sell: where it comes from, who made it, and how it was made. It means sharing that information with your clients.

Last but not least, it means encouraging your clients to talk about the things they buy and learn about at your store on social media by providing them with a hashtag (i.e., #SmithJewelers) that links back to your business (it goes without saying that you should already have accounts with Pinterest, Instagram, and, if you’re brave, Snapchat!). Make the hashtag visible so millennial shoppers will be reminded to do what they do best: connect.

This is your mission, should you to choose to accept it. For those who don’t, Ego had some blunt words: “Ignore the millennials, and you’re extinct.”