Over a century ago, New York City's iconic Lord & Taylor building opened its doors. It has always been a monument to traditional, old-school retail. The building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was even declared a city landmark a decade ago. But on Tuesday, Hudson's Bay — the company that owns the department store chain — announced that it would be selling the building to seven-year-old start up WeWork. This sale is indicative of changes in an evolving economy.
WeWork's office-sharing model is helping to re-invent the concept of work space. Small and mid-size businesses can rent office space at a WeWork location. The company also aims to humanize work. They believe CEOs can learn from each other and that offices should have all the comforts of home. Hudson Bay's plan to sell the space to WeWork for $850 million reveals the economic value of co-working space over traditional brick-and-mortar retail space.
There are plenty of stories blaming millennials for the downfall of department stores and many other things. But millennials aren't making economic choices based on the intention of sinking long-established businesses. The failures of traditional department stores only demonstrates their lack of flexibility. These aging industries have not adjusted to the new culture millennials are bringing to the economy.
In the short term, these changes can seem negative and harmful. The effects can be widespread, resulting in thousands of lost jobs. But in the long term, these changes are natural and expected. There were major shifts during the Industrial Revolution or during the Dotcom boom of the '90s. And now, we are in the midst of a digital revolution of sorts. As a result, the culture is changing once again.
Millennials have different values from the generations that came before them. They have grown up with computers and mobile technology so they are used to convenience and ease of use. Traditional department stores are built to encourage as much purchasing as possible. Unlike generations before them, millennials often value experiences over items. When they need something, it makes more sense to buy it quickly online rather than sit through the sales pitch of a clerk. However, millennials are spending more than previous generations on activities like dining out and movies.
Another way to win over millennials is with lowering friction at check out. Starbucks is winning over customers with their customer loyalty app that makes paying as easy as waving a phone. The more stores support Apple and Samsung pay, the more millennials will want to shop there.
Soon, millennials will have more buying power than any other generation group. If businesses want to survive, they need to adjust to their desires. Millennials want customer experiences tailored to their preferences. Personalized experiences make them feel valued and wanted. They frown on general catch-all phrases and spiel. Showing attention in-store or through social media will create loyalty in millennials. Businesses should leverage their customer data to achieve the perfect personalized experience for these up and coming customers.