In 2014, Google released a report that said nearly half of all B2B researchers were millennials. These buyers are more adept at technology, have higher expectations, and as they rise to influential positions within a company, they will look to make more transactions online than their predecessors. Today, the millennial generation may only makeup half (or less) of consumers, but your B2B ecommerce site might be around for years. In that time, millennial shoppers, and Gen Y for that matter, will make up the majority of your customer base. So, should you be focusing on an ecommerce solution and marketing strategy that is tailored to millennial buying habits? If so, where do you begin?
First, take the time to survey your customer base, which will provide different insight than any broad survey released by Google. Incentivize them if you have to, as the insights are worth the negligible costs. In your survey, get a feel for their expectations (easy reordering, order to approval workflow, types of payment options, mobile friendly, product videos) and how each might relate to age. It’s logical that expectations that are unique to your younger customers will only become more prevalent, as older customers are promoted out of buying roles. You will definitely want to ask about things like how they use a mobile device to shop online and research products. The Google report highlights the growing importance of a customer experience optimized for mobile devices:
“49% of B2B researchers who use their mobile devices for product research do so while at work. They’re comparing prices, reading about products, comparing feature sets, and contacting retailers. They’re purchasing, too; purchase rates on mobile are up 22% in the past two years.”
You can learn more about the rise of mobile research and other trends in this report.
In addition to looking at your customers, look internally. If someone in your office fits the description of this expanding demographic, set up some time to ask them their thoughts on ecommerce. Their unique generational perspective will be informed by your industry and your business goals. That’s something you can’t get from the media or even trade publications. Of course, if you aren’t educating your younger employees, or sharing organizational goals and a basic financial outlook with them, then you won’t get that insight.
You may find the answers surprising. We found that B2B marketers in the 45-54-year-old age group were most likely age group to believe that ecommerce is a good investment for their company. The least likely age group to say it’s a good investment? Those under 34. The older group was twice as likely as the youngest group (51.72 percent vs. 26.09 percent). Could it be excess caution? And could that caution be useful to a committee charged with making an investment in B2B ecommerce?
Our survey didn’t just reveal that younger people were less likely; it also revealed their uncertainty. When asked if they felt a B2B ecommerce site is a worthwhile investment for their company, 29 percent of the youngest group, likely the group with the least experience, felt uncomfortable giving an answer. But once we looked at groups that had presumably entered higher positions, each group was more confident than the generation before it:
As the under 34 group enters into positions where they can make decisions, it’s possible that they will be even more confident than the generation before. If the trend continues, fewer than 10 percent will not hold an opinion on ecommerce.
Many B2C marketers are a decade ahead of you because they had to be. Ten years ago, they struggled to understand millennial buying habits because teenagers make up a large percentage of their customer base. B2B is unique. As soon as you need to sell to a buyer, they are old enough to hire them onto your workforce, so use that to your advantage. Don’t let a clickbait article convince you of sweeping generalizations and sway you away from the opportunity.
Millennial consumers set the bar for streamlined online buying processes, innovative marketing strategies, and personalized experiences. And it’s not just creating and an ecommerce site for millennials to complete transactions—it’s also about providing relevant, informative content to help the shopper make better buying decisions. For example, Home Depot has been investing heavily in its content strategy, site improvements, and mobile experience to create one interconnected experience for its customers. They have a features sections on its homepage called “For the Pro” (it defines ‘pro’ customers as professional contractors and buyers from government agencies). The feature offers content and purchasing tools specifically designed for pros.
Millennial customers will soon be the majority (if they’re not already). Selling to millennials seems like a hard equation to solve. But, by continuously leveraging customer insights from a survey and from your employees, you can create an ecommerce site and customer experience that will withstand generations.