Who is the millennial customer? The general industry consensus is a millennial describes a consumer born between 1980 and 1995. After that you get the iGeneration and Generation Z.

But as Giles Delefeld, CIO of Clarks said: “It’s quite dangerous to think about these groups as very different types of people – I’m a digital person and I like paper notes, but some things I wouldn’t dream of doing on paper.”

He added: “It’s more about understanding customers and customer trends over all.”

Speaking at the IRC conference in London, he described how even though the demographics behave very differently, retailers shouldn’t pigeon-hole their customers into different segments or appeal to one segment over another.

“Many customers want information in the moment on their smartphones, moving between devices in real time and getting access to brands from social media, but it’s dangerous to think all of your customers want to operate in that way,” said Delefeld, describing how one Clarks customer was frustrated when they had to fill in an online form and annoyed even more when told they had to complain via email. 

Clarks has been making shoes since 1825, and Delefeld said many customers think of it as a brand they visit to buy their childrens’ first pair of shoes.

“As that [child] becomes older, they stop buying our shoes because they are no longer seen as ‘cool’, until you want to wear comfortable shoes and you come back.”

He said: “Having the [millennial] labels is a useful conversation starter, but first of all you have to understand where you are as a business – knowing what you are and what you want to be is absolutely crucial. As well as building a deeper relationship with your consumers and understanding them better.”

Internal organisation

Delefeld also pointed out how important it is to bring technology into the centre of an organisation.

“In some businesses, technology is still seen as the team in the basement keeping the lights on, building things someone else in the building has told them to.”

He also said retailers need to be as digital internally as their customers are.

“Organisations need to be moving at least as fast as consumers, if not faster,” he added. “They need to be aware of the new platforms springing up that people are navigating to – Facebook is now for the middle ages, the early teens don’t want to be friends with their parents, typically they're using Snapchat and Instagram.”