All across Europe, the Netherlands included, there is a sense that millennials are shaping the future. Technology is here to stay, and the so-called digital natives, who grew up with mobile phones, tablets, streaming video, etc, are completely fluent in using them. They do not separate between offline and online, their whole existence is onlife, the two are completely blended. Every aspect of society and business is effected by this process.
2. Why is the emergence of the millennial generation important for distribution companies?
Because millennials want “what they want when they want it”, distribution companies – I prefer to call them retail platforms – need to rethink their strategy. In the past, older generations were used to ways of shopping that took time and effort, and involved more complicated steps (i.e. looking through a catalogue, going to a store, using cash to pay the parking machine, being limited by the opening times of stores). Now, retail is a 24/7 global industry. The big global technology companies are everywhere. Thanks to their size, they have the means to innovate and to offer ever better deals to consumers. On the other hand, smaller and locally-sourced businesses can use technology to their advantage to offer personalized and unique service – which is also something that the millennial generation is very interested in.
3. Millennial generation invests in spending much money for themselves. They also prefer to share and experience rather than own things. Like this, what do the global retail giants define the consumption characteristics of millennials?
This generation works to live, they want to enjoy themselves and have interesting and fulfilling lives. For retail, this means they enjoy shopping experiences – both online and instore – that are new, can be shared with friends, are interesting, unique, etc. Shopping is still a social activity, as it has always been, but now sharing is done online, too, through platforms like Instagram or Snapchat. So maybe a millennial shopper goes online at the same time with her friends, buys the item that a fashion influencer recommends on Insta. It is the onlife consumer who defines their own characteristics, not the retailer. The retail platforms simply provide every possible item or service, and makes sure the shopping experience is as effortless as can be.
4. What exactly is the onlife era you mentioned in the book? How will the role of retail companies and personal lives change in this age?
The onlife era is now. It is the age in which the boundaries between online and offline are disappearing, or in fact, have already disappeared for many people. This process is called ‘onlification’, a phrase coined by the Italian philosopher Luciano Floridi, in his book The Onlife Manifesto. For society as a whole, onlification has potentially huge effects, because literally every part of our lives is becoming digital, is being impacted by technology. There is no need to talk about online versus offline, online and offline are merging into onlife.
For retail companies, this means a transformation of epic proportions. Analogue becomes digital, vertical becomes horizontal, centralized becomes local, top-down becomes bottom-up and
bureaucracies are replaced by networks. These are all manifestations of how the structure of retail is changing profoundly, its balance of power being altered at the same time. The big technology companies – such as Ali-Baba, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and others – are in effect retail platforms. They are highly effective in being present in all aspects of the onlife consumer’s life. Ranging from at-home devices (Amazon Alexa), to subscription services for free delivery, to personalized special offers: the benefits are huge for the onlife consumer.
5. As you mentioned in the book, the distinction between online and everyday life disappears in the onlife era. What strategies should retailers create in this age and how do they operate and marketing?
Retailers should realize that every stage of the customer journey (orientation-selection-payment-delivery-customer care) is effected by the transformation to onlife. Each stage requires a new retail strategy. The key point is to imagine what the onlife consumer wants, which is the very best service, personalized, fast and the very best deal they can get. For the onlife consumer, N=1, or in other words: they want to feel like the most important customer the retailer has. In a sense, this is not too different from how customers have always wanted to be treated, on the other hand: retailers now have a wealth of technology at their fingertips to help them make each individual customer perfectly satisfied.
6. Global distribution companies such as Amazon and Alibaba are rapidly innovating to reach the millennial generation. What strategies do these companies execute? What are the concrete examples and the achievements so far?
The basic strategy for these companies is that they fully understand the need to be present in every aspect of the onlife consumer’s life. They don’t see themselves as retailers or distribution companies, per se, they know they are technology companies first – Jeff Bezos of Amazon is often quoted as saying “Amazon is a technology company. We just happen to do retailing.” The strategy means that such companies have a very wide range of services, including: their own brand, delivery services, cloud-based storage, shopping (bricks-and-clicks), news services, streaming music and video, online chat, tv/film/game producing and home-based devices. The consumer cannot miss them, though not every consumer will use all the services, of course. The effect of the strategy is that consumers are happy to share their personal information (data), in order to get better goods and services, and have an easier life thanks to the technology offered by these companies.
7. Analysis of the consumer habits of the Millennials shows that they consume products which companies that do not experiment with animals and avoid environmental pollution. The efforts of distributors to reduce the amount of carbon from in-store and distribution networks are in line with the direction that Millennials are pursuing. In the end, can only companies that pursue social values, such as environmental pollution prevention and animal rights protection, survive in the future? Do you think so? Should companies try to pursue social values to reach this generation?
I think that in the end, social values such as sustainability and corporate social responsibility are the new normal. The millennial generation is quick to understand when businesses just say they care about such things, without backing it up with action. Not for nothing are many fashion retailers changing their way of doing business, in response to consumer outrage over the working conditions of retail factory workers, or pollution of natural resources. This is the way forward for every retail business.
8. One of the typical consumption characteristics of the Millennials is that they prefer sharing and experience rather than ownership. It is well known in China’s shared bicycle craze. Is there any company that is well prepared for the shared economic era and is implementing the right strategy, what kind of company is there? What is the company’s success?
There are many successful companies that take advantage of the sharing economy: Airbnb, Uber, Etsy, for example. The secret of their success is how they build their brand, by being efficient, trustworthy, innovative and focused on community. Every part of their strategy is infused with these four key topics.
9. How do you think the future age will change through big data, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence technologies that are promoting change to the on-life era? What if you give Korean companies advice on survival.
We are already seeing these changes, as technology is everywhere in our lives. For example, the use of big data is essential to the success of a company like Facebook. Recent scandals have laid bare the weaknesses of big data, but consumers are still more than willing to share a lot of their personal information (including storing photos, messages, and more, in the cloud or on social media) in exchange for the goods and services that the tech companies offer them. This is the very essence of how technology brings about change: the trust of the consumer is there – for the most part – and that allows the companies to create innovation and move towards a future that is 100% onlife.