Are Millennials Coming Back to Brick-and-Mortar?

wayne120In an effort to further understand the habits and attitudes of Millennials I recently ran an Invoke Xperience with close to 150 Millennial participants. This Xperience focused on better understanding Millennial shopping habits and attitudes. Specifically, I really wanted to understand how they are shopping online versus brick-and-mortar locations. In order to do this, I not only conducted a standard Invoke qual/quant session but I added elements of a Mobile In-the-Moment survey (to gather in-the-moment feedback at a brick-and-mortar location) and an Immediate Website Usability component (run within the session to gather real-time feedback on a website experience). These components were added in to gain more “real” data on both brick-and-mortar and online shopping behaviors and perceptions. You can check out the full report here.

And honestly, I am SO glad I added in these additional components because those combined with the traditional Invoke session uncovered some interesting findings. Generally, when Millennials are asked overall likability of online retail, 93% of Millennials say they like shopping online (top 2 box) and 79% say they are shopping online more often than they were a year ago. Comparatively, 76% of these Millennials say they like shopping at brick-and-mortar locations and only 33% are shopping at brick and mortar locations more often than they were a year ago (top 2 box). And in fact, 28% say they are shopping at brick and mortar less often (bottom 2 box).

And the reasons for such a high online retail likability score? The expected reasons show up – convenience, ease of shopping, the ability to compare prices. In addition to this, the dislikes for brick-and-mortar were not all that unexpected either. Millennials often note crowds and long lines as things they dislike about shopping at brick-and-mortar.

Fine, nothing hugely surprising here so far.

However, when you get into direct comparisons and in-the-moment feedback, this paints a different picture for Millennials. When compared directly, 45% of Millennials actually say they prefer shopping at brick-and-mortar compared to 30% that prefer online.


This research uncovered two things that Millennials like about brick-and-mortar they are not getting from online.

Tangible interactions

“The personal interactions, being able to ask questions to a real live human. Being able to see, touch, smell the product first.”

When asked what they like about brick-and-mortar shopping, Millennials often talk about physical interactions, both with product and people. They like having the ability to pick up, touch and try on whatever they are buying.  Beyond product, though, Millennials also often note the opportunity to interact with real people is an advantage of brick-and-mortar over online retail.

Immediate gratification

“You are able to get the products you need right away.”

In addition to the physical interactions that brick-and-mortar brings, it also enables Millennials to get the items they are buying immediately after purchase. This is also mentioned as something Millennials like about brick-and-mortar. Further, when they are asked what they dislike about online retail, Millennials often say they don’t like waiting for shipping.

So what?

So what are the takeaways here? People are apt to think this generation, the first that grew up completely with computers in their home, would be more likely to prefer the online shopping experience to brick-and-mortar. And in fact, Millennials are actually likely to gravitate towards the expected benefits of online (convenience, speed) when asked general likability. However, when it comes down to it, they prefer the brick-and-mortar shopping experience over online. When they are asked to directly compare the two, they are more likely to note a preference towards brick-and-mortar. And when they are actually in a retail shopping situation, Millennials report higher likability for brick-and-mortar.

Brick-and-mortar could be benefitting from some online “backlash” that does not jive with core Millennial values. First, thanks to this generation’s regular exposure to the Internet and other services such as instant messaging on-demand programming , Milliennials are often seen as a generation that demands immediate gratification.

Second, this is a very diverse generation is used to dealing with custom, personalized experiences and there has been data out there as of late suggesting that Millennials are looking for more human interaction in areas such as customer service.

This is not to say that Millennials will be totally eschewing online retail, but this should raise some retailer eyebrows and get retailers thinking seriously about both their online and brick-and-mortar presence in order to ensure that Millennials are able to shop how they want to shop, when they need to shop.


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