There is a fundamental shift in consumer-driven businesses that has been emerging over the past few years, and it’s shaking up industries and businesses that once stood as giants for decades. Almost daily, an industry giant is either declaring bankruptcy, layoffs, closing locations, or reporting yet another quarter of subpar numbers. The writing is on the wall…. Yet, most industry leaders are refusing to accept reality. Instead, they choose to blame millennials for their demise… Along with these bankruptcies, layoffs, and store closings, we also see newly published articles regarding how “millennials” are completely decimating industries, businesses, and traditions that have stood the test of time. Here’s the thing: are millennials really to blame? We think not… We are believers that the industry and businesses themselves are the cause of their own demise—not millennials, or any age group, for that matter.
Let’s elaborate on what we mean by that… The reality is that a majority of businesses are failing to recognize the changing time and focusing on “business as usual”. Looking back on twenty years ago during downtimes, “business as usual” typically meant finding areas of cutting cost to increase margins or creating a few more marketing promotions with the hopes of increasing sales just enough to ride out the lulls in the economy. Those strategies typically worked for most businesses because, looking back at those times, there were only so many places to shop, eat, or consume entertainment. Each industry essentially had a handful of businesses that monopolized their respective industries, which lead to their economic ebbs and flows with the economy. At those times, there were only so many places consumers could spend their money… Great for businesses in those days, right? Here lies the problem—most executive leaders within long-established consumer-oriented businesses are continuing to run their businesses as if it was the 1980s or 90s. However, the market has drastically changed since then. First, in the age of technology and consumer preferences, the 80s & 90s were essentially a 100 years ago. A very millennial statement, but here’s the reality: the market is truly changing at the speed of light, and even looking five years back has shown drastic changes in both technology and consumers preferences. Technology has enabled consumers to essentially have the knowledge of the internet at their fingertips, and forward-thinking businesses have capitalized on this fact enabling an “On-Demand Economy”. Technology has also enabled almost anyone to start up their own online business with the same technological capabilities of a multimillion-dollar business. Never mind the fact that a small startup with a little knowledge of how Search Engine Marketing works can easily outrank a multimillion-dollar organization in a matter of weeks by using the right Google industry keywords. Technology and increased competition are the real reasons these consumer-facing industries are struggling, not millennials… Businesses just can’t cut cost and rely on a few promotions to ride out the lulls anymore, as competition is all too eager to steal that business away.
While corporations are looking at their calculators, small businesses & startups are focusing on
- Creating a digital marketing strategy to essentially make the big brands completely irrelevant online.
- Providing consumers with exactly what they need in the easiest way possible.
- Creating flexible pricing and packages that match what consumers really want, not finding ways to charge more for the same (or lesser) service.
- Providing value for free when others want to charge for it.
- Increasing quality, not cutting it.
- Working on loyalty reward programs that actually provide real value and rewards.
When you begin to peel back the layers of the onion, millennials almost have nothing to do with the demise of these industries and businesses at all… Failure lies solely on their shoulders. Let’s take for example Sears… Sears was once an industry giant that had stood for more than 100 years, and for a majority of the time in business, they were the gold standard in retail. In their early days, when obtaining certain items for the general population was almost impossible, they created a first-of-its-kind catalogue of thousands of items that could be delivered to your front door. Then in the 1960s when consumer need for faster access to consumable goods became more prevalent, it led to the blossoming business of malls and Sears was quick to capitalize. Looking back to the 1980s, there probably wasn’t a mall in the country without a Sears taking up some major real-estate. As Sears grew, they made investments in Craftsman tools, DieHard batteries, Kenmore appliances, and others. All of this led to Sears being a formidable industry giant, and they enjoyed that success for decades… However, in the early 90s, Sears decided to focus more on cost-cutting metrics instead of innovation. We called attention to this in another article. As an example, in January 1993, Sears announced the closing of the catalogue, eliminating 50,000 jobs as they didn’t see a market in delivering items directly to consumers’ front doors, and keeping that business running was “too expensive”. Interestingly enough, in July of 1994, Amazon was born, which ended up being a company that could deliver items directly to consumers’ front doors. Yes, really, had Sears thought about where technology was going like Amazon did, they literally could have been the Amazon of today. However, Sears’s cost-cutting didn’t stop there, and for thirty years now Sears has been focusing on cost-saving metrics across the board… Anyone that has been at a Sears in the past few years has come across stores in disrepair, sub-par inventory levels, long lines, and employees that generally don’t seem to care. It’s no surprise that Sears is now closing stores almost daily and in bankruptcy litigation.
However, on the flip slide, you have Target, Best Buy, Walmart and others all seeing great success in today’s tough economy. The reason why is simple: they have all been focusing on innovation, bringing choices and convenience to the consumer. Best Buy, from the beginning, has strived to have a strong ecommerce presence, becoming one of the first big-box retail organizations to have a true website with online purchasing availability. They were also one of the primary innovators of ecommerce purchasing with in-store pickups. Target has focused on innovative payment methods, allowing consumers to skip the line and pay for items in the aisle instead. Target also recently launched a new program to use local stores as virtual ecommerce warehouses decreasing overhead while speeding up the entire delivery process to consumers. Walmart recently announced strong revenues directly related to curbside pickup… These are just a few areas of innovation that has allowed other big-box retailers to stay on top. In contrast, Sears has attempted nothing even remotely close to these innovative methods to save their business.
However, big companies are also not the only businesses thriving. In fact, only 53 companies have been on the Fortune 500 since 1955, including 17 newcomers to the list in 2018. Companies such as Uber, Yelp, Spotify, DoorDash, Zapos, Salesforce.com, Amazon, Facebook, Google were all startups less than twenty years ago. They are not alone; almost daily, a new startup comes from almost nowhere to be a new industry-leading giant… The reality of the whole situation is that millennials are not killing industries… The big-business thinking of yesteryear is. We’re in a climate where most of the consumer industries that are in the midst of major shake-ups, such as Retail, Cable, General Medical Care, Transportation, Food, and Entertainment, are all struggling… Each are struggling with their own issues of conducting business as if it was still the 1980s or 90s while pointing fingers at millennials for their changing buying habits and lack of brand loyalty. Here is the reality—they are doing it to themselves for all the reasons listed earlier in this article, and it is up to them to recognize the writing on the wall. However, we are in favor of the small businesses and startups!