The 2013 back-to-school season is lackluster at best for retailers. Based on my work with Millennials and my agency's research, here are eight reasons why the season is such a disaster.
1. There is no new trend. Last year, it was all about tablets, convertible notebooks, and all things tech, but there is nothing new or exciting this season. Millennials and their moms are totally bored, and recent stock plummets by major teen players like American Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Aeropostale indicate that retail stores are not the place to be this season.
2. Millennials are having a better time online. In a recent Buzz Marketing Group study with tweens, we found that Amazon and Ebay ranked as their #1 and #2 favorite retailers. What does it say when these younger Millennials prefer to buy used goods rather than shop at their local A&F?
3. There is no true value proposition. Millennials are looking for inspiration, not just another product. That is precisely why brands like Warby Parker and TOMS are winning out over the once-popular brands, such as American Eagle Outfitters and Keds. While the former offers a promise and an experience (in addition, of course, to quality), the latter just provides more closet-stuffers.
4. There is no real reason to buy anything during this "season." Sure, there might be a couple of nice new outfits or pretty gadgets out there - but Millennials are used to getting what they want when they want it. They don't just stay put until the back-to-school "season" starts. As always, Generation Y curates its own personal brand at its own pace, so do not expect these individuals to just wait around for retailers to announce a big call to action to purchase.
5. Millennials are Global Mobiles, and Americana is just not resonating. Sorry to break it to you, but jeans and polo shirts are just not hot anymore. Mix it up, for goodness sakes! J. Crew shot a recent catalog in Africa for that specific reason. The brand showed us that it could take a fresh take on the season. With a catalog launch on Pinterest (which was the first of its kind) and a well-curated product line up that not only includes their traditional jeans and flats but also features Nars lip pencils and vintage Nikes, J. Crew is at least attempting to understand its audience.
6. There are no interesting digital integrations. Our studies -- as well as every other study done on the matter -- show that Millennials spend a huge chunk of their time online... so brands should have utilized online platforms to reach out to this key demographic. Instead, we are presented with huge September issues that are even thicker than in seasons past. Why? It makes no sense. This should have been the season of the most complex Pinterest integrations ever. Period.
7. Today's economy has created a generation that is wiser about its spending habits. Due to the current state of the economy and job market, Millennials are not exactly rolling in dough. Although this generation is incredibly smart and skillful, is still difficult for them to find jobs and develop careers especially when they are competing with older workers. As a result, Generation Y is willing to spend and purchase, but only on the items and experiences that they deem to be completely worth it - and retailers have simply failed to provide these Millennials with what they are looking for.
8. For a generation wired for conscious consumption, there were too few social partnerships. With brands such as FEED and Warby Parker, Millennials know where exactly their money is going. These companies are intent on giving back rather than simply raking in profits -- so Generation Y can give and get at the same time. Moreover, such companies are incredibly upfront about their plans and the impact of their donations and actions, thus gaining the trust and loyalty of this socially conscious generation. The problem is that only a few companies display such generosity and transparency, and no one else has realized this goldmine of opportunity.
Here's hoping Millennial retailers take note and respond accordingly for Holiday 2013.