Retail shouldn't ditch the store because millennials love it, survey finds

  • The Northeast region of the U.S. has seen the greatest "behavioral shift" between where the young and the old look for deals, First Insight finds.
  • In that region 25 percent more millennials than baby boomers are visiting multiple stores when out shopping.
  • It might seem counterintuitive, but baby boomers appear to increasingly prefer making purchases online, Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight, tells CNBC.

Millennials could be playing a bigger role in keeping physical retail alive than one might think.

And though it may seem counterintuitive, baby boomers are more and more loving looking for deals online.

Seventy-one percent of millennials are visiting multiple stores in search of bargains, compared with 57 percent of baby boomers, according to First Insight, a technology company that helps retailers select the optimal price for their products.

"The retail industry has been operating on the outdated assumption that boomers are shopping for deals primarily in-store and millennials are searching for deals mostly online," said Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight.

"The behavior between these generations is evolving, and to benefit, retailers must recalibrate their approach to marketing, inventory and pricing to attract deal-seekers who may have been overlooked based on outdated perceptions," Petro explained.

Source: First Insight

First Insight surveyed 750 participants in the U.S. on their shopping habits, purchase behavior, discount expectations and influences that drive purchase decisions.

Looking at geographies, one finding from the firm's data was that the Northeast region of the U.S. has seen the greatest "behavioral shift" between where the young and the old look for deals. In the Northeast, 25 percent more millennials than baby boomers are visiting multiple stores to find bargains.

Along the West Coast, millennials are looking in stores and online about equally before making a purchase, the firm said. And the Midwest shows the strongest shift by an older generation of shoppers searching for deals and ringing up items online.

"Baby boomers are technologically aware, while millennials are tech natives," Petro told CNBC in an interview. Both categories of shoppers are looking at deals online today, but First Insight has found that "how they execute" is surprisingly different.

"Millennials are going out [for] the treasure hunting experience in stores," Petro added. "Baby boomers — growing up — have already experienced this. ... Basically, what this suggests is not to ignore the store environment because millennials are still seeking it out."

To be sure, millennials — or those individuals between the ages of 18 and 35 — represent a large percentage of the U.S. population. And Generation Z is growing right behind them.

Heading into the holidays — the final period of the year when a majority of retail sales are made — it's key that consumer-facing companies have a plan in place to leverage both their store and online assets. And especially a plan that will reach younger demographics.

"The store is still alive and well," RetailMeNot CMO Marissa Tarleton told CNBC. "The majority of consumers say they still want to go into the store, and retailers are still seeing a lot of activity in stores."

In its annual holiday survey of retailers' and consumers' sentiment around the season, RetailMeNot found that Americans plan to spend an average of $743 during the Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend, up 47 percent from last year's average of $505. Forty-five percent of Americans plan to start shopping before Nov. 1, according to RetailMeNot.

Tarleton's recommendation for retailers would be to capitalize on the brick-and-mortar store as a "benefit," by incorporating personalized experiences, and to ramp up mobile marketing efforts quickly.

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