Ignite Sales by Marketing to Millennials

Last fall the antiques world was set a buzz by multiple sightings of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift shopping for antiques. For a brief moment, dealers hoped that the young star’s interest in antiques would spawn a renaissance in antiques buying among other Millennials.

We’re still waiting for that to happen.

Those darned Millennials. As a group (b. 1981-mid ’90s), they just don’t seem to have the same shopping habits that the rest of us do. The two older demographic cohorts, Boomers and Gen X, tend to value similar types of consumer goods (but for different reasons). Gen X grew up in the McMansions that their Boomer parents bought to house their accumulated possessions. For Gen X, there was always room to have friends over to enjoy the latest video games, movies, music and eating gourmet snacks while sitting on comfortable, stylish furniture. Gen X (as a group) still favors purchases that will help them socialize. When they buy, they buy with the group in mind (Factoring for X: An Empirical Study of Generation X’s Materialistic Attributes, Nora M. Martin University of South Carolina, Diane Prince Clayton State University).

Millennial tribes are online

Millennials are just as social and group-oriented as their Gen X siblings, with one big difference: They don’t require a physical location to accommodate their “tribe.” For Millennials, their friends are always just a text message away regardless of where they are. Millennials are the first generation to grow up completely wired. By the time they were in kindergarten, home computers were commonplace. In elementary school, they learned to surf the ’Net. In high school, most were armed with cell phones with text and video capability. Since 2001, Millennials have never been more than a few feet away from a digital device.

The Pew Research Center calls Millennials “digital natives in a world of digital immigrants”.

When Millennials shop, they do so with iPhone in hand, snapping pictures, texting and sharing the experience with their friends. The opinion of the tribe is essential to making a buying decision: “What do you think of this?” and “How do you think this will look on me?” are common questions. If one’s friends don’t approve, a purchase is often quashed. With a few keystrokes, a shopping experience (good or bad) can be posted to FacebookTwitterPinterestMySpace and a dozen other places.

When a Millennial walks into your store, you’re not selling to just one person; you’re selling to the tribe. Make the individual’s experience a good one, and your business and your products will soon be known to dozens (hundreds?) of potential customers, each with their own circle of friends. Word-of-mouth has never worked better than it does with Millennial customers. So, it’s important to market effectively to these customers because you might not get a second chance with any particular circle of friends. Bob Phibbs, in his white paper “What Every Retailer Must Know About the Millennial Generation”, establishes some key points when marketing to Millennials:

Millennials value quality over selection

“Gently used” is OK, but the expectation is that the used product will perform as well and last as long as the similar new product. The digital generation grew up with information overload, so keep shopping simple. Don’t make them wade through dozens of brands or models in order to find something appropriate; they don’t have that kind of time (it would seem). Keep your selection simple and tell them outright which items are “good, better and best.”

Millennials value products that provide new experiences. Your sales presentation and marketing material should explain the new experience that your product will provide; the way to achieve this is through “back story.” Products with a good back story are compelling. Retailers who promote the “back story” of their products have become iconic among the Millennials: J. PetermanWhole Foods and Trader Joe’s to name a few. “Back Story” is the essence of the antiques business; think in terms of an item’s history and provenance.

Vintage goods are a perfect fit for Millennials

Millennials prefer to shop for unique items at independent retailers rather than for mass-produced items at mega-stores and malls. Unique is more important than new. Retro is cool (does anyone say “cool” anymore or am I dating myself?). Thrifting is the new shopping. Craigslist, eBay and thrift stores are “in.” There’s every reason to believe that antique stores fit into this paradigm. All it takes is putting a different spin on your marketing.

Green is good. Re-use, re-purpose and re-cycle. Gurus of retro-repurpose are Cari Cucksey ( and Sally Schwartz (; a look at their websites is instructive. Share through your displays ways in which some of your more common items can be re-purposed. The Pinterest website ( always has photos of re-purposed items. With a quick glance, I just saw photos of a watering can turned into a shower head, a metal headboard used as an outdoor gate, and an old birdcage turned into a lamp.

Having trouble moving the household goods from the last estate you purchased? Turn your overstock into a solution that Millennials can relate to, like signage that says something like “Got a new apartment? Here are five things you’ll need.”

As Bob Phibbs says, “You are curating a community.” Don’t wait for a celebrity like Taylor Swift to walk into your store in order to get some “buzz” going. Start instead with the very next Millennial customer who walks through your door … but you’d better be ready for them when they show up.

Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine

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