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Retailers Don't Need to Fear Younger Generations

Retailers Don't Need to Fear Younger Generations

As a Baby Boomer, I have fond feelings about my generation. But as one of the younger members of that group, I like to think I can detect growing gaps between Boomers and later generations.

There's one forming now the size of a crater.

Boomer retail executives increasingly don't know how to deal with younger associates and consumers.

You can sense the concern in comments I've recently heard: “Why do my younger colleagues have to text me even when they're just a few feet away?” “I don't know where to begin with Facebook and Twitter to attract younger consumers.” “How do we get these shoppers to appreciate supermarkets?” “How will we fill our management ranks once Baby Boomers begin to retire en masse?”

After a while these become FAQs. So it's time to begin addressing them and breaking down the fear that comes from misunder-standing.

First, let's tackle Facebook and Twitter. Yes, social networking sites are good places to reach these consumers, in particular Generation Y. But executives daunted by this challenge need to realize that no one has figured it all out yet. The best advice is to get some young associates involved in these strategies because they will lead you in the best directions. You can still make the final decisions, but you probably can't do it without them.

On the challenge of attracting young consumers to the supermarket, retailers have a few new advantages on their side. First, consumers of all stripes are eating more at home to save money. Second, many younger consumers are fascinated by television cooking shows but wish they had more know-how in food preparation. This includes not only Generation Y but also Generation X.

That's where supermarkets can gain an edge by providing cooking information in the forms these shoppers want. Recently, Supervalu's Jeff Noddle pointed to a new product line at his company, the Stockman & Dakota premium beef brand, whose marketing is partly aimed at the younger set.

It boasts a website that “teaches non-cookers skills to enhance kitchen confidence,” everything from nutrition info to preparation instructions, he said. The site also includes a feedback mechanism to attract responses.

That brings me to the subject of attracting younger associates who will become the next generation of managers. A number of companies are developing solutions, from partnering with universities in recruiting programs to conducting extensive training. There are no right or wrong strategies, but the bottom line is executives must figure out what will make their companies and this industry attractive enough to draw and retain younger generations.

Obviously, the challenges discussed here won't be solved overnight, but they are urgent. It's time for Boomers to reach out, or at the very least to send a text message.

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