“People don’t buy stuff in actual stores”—the future of retail, as explained by Gen Z

Instagram is the new shopping mall.
Instagram is the new shopping mall.
Image: AP Photo/Karly Domb Sadof
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Every business is trying to crack the coveted market of shoppers in their 20s and teens. A recent panel at the “Fashion Digital” conference in New York City featuring young entrepreneurs ages 17 to 23 tried to provide a glimpse into how. What they said should strike some degree of fear in every retail executive.

Here are the highlights:

 “People don’t buy stuff in actual stores anymore; stores are there to just, like, expose people to the brand” —Stacey Ferreira, 23, author of the book “$2 Billion Under 20”

Translation: Shoppers are using stores as showrooms, so retailers better provide an amazing experience. If you interact with a friendly salesperson who consults on, say, an outfit for an upcoming job interview or the best phone to buy, you’re much more likely to develop an affinity for the brand and buy those products. Ditto for a brand’s website, which has become the new storefront.

“Before, going to the mall and hanging out was a thing, and I’m like, how was that ever a thing?”—Ocean Pleasant, 18, who founded a magazine on youth culture and just released her first single and music video.

Translation: Retailers and mall owners still in denial about declining foot traffic at malls and stores, take note. Teens don’t see malls as a social scene anymore—that interaction is more likely to happen on Instagram or Snapchat. That means stores designed around luring in passersby with one-day sales or other promotions are going to have to work harder to attract customers and provide a compelling reason to get people to come out to shop.

“I like going to Apple stores to not only look for products, but I like the environment. I would go work out of an Apple store if they would let me” —Stacey Ferreira, 23

Translation: Brick and mortar is not dead; retail just has to be done differently. Apple stores single-handedly increase sales by 10% at the malls in which they operate, because they are designed around providing consumers with popular products they want, as well as tutorials and dedicated help for those products. All the new bike stores and home design stores combined with coffee shops that are cropping up are listening to Stacey—and so should you.

“I know what I want and who I am, and I don’t want to be forced to go to some millennials rack” —Reade Seiff, 17-year-old founder of Workpile, a small business services startup.

Translation: Millennials don’t like being called millennials. Seiff was responding to a question about “One Below,” the new millennial floor Macy’s spent millions of dollars to build in order to attract shoppers in their teens and 20s. He followed up on 20-year-old tech startup founder John Meyer’s response: “Clearly something is wrong here because I didn’t know about it. Instead of trying so hard to sell to a manufactured group, they should focus on selling products people naturally love.”