Witty, Tidy And Upscale: What Millennials Like In Store Design

With the holiday season in full swing, retailers are trying to find new ways to appeal to the largest, most influential segment of today’s consumer population: the millennial generation.

A study in this month’s Journal of Interior Design by University of Florida doctoral student Elizabeth “Lissy” Calienes revealed elements of a store’s physical design that catch the attention of millennial shoppers, who represent $200 billion in annual consumer spending.

After conducting an in-depth content analysis of retail images and descriptions submitted by millennial participants, Calienes’ results uncovered seven themes:

  1. Mess and emptiness: Millennial shoppers reacted negatively to retail environments that appeared unorganized, dirty, and even objected to having employees restocking the shelves when they were trying to shop.
  2. Order and neatness: Millennial shoppers appreciated clearly organized merchandise (e.g., color blocking) that facilitated the shopping experience.
  3. Humor and fun: Millennial shoppers enjoyed tongue-in-cheek humor during their shopping experience whether that stemmed from novel mannequin displays, playful imagery or witty signage.
  4. Quality and upscale: Millennial shoppers liked the fact that bargain stores invested in higher-end displays that seemed to enhance the quality of the products.
  5. Ease and comfort: Millennial shoppers preferred retail environments with well-defined spaces that encouraged easy navigation to find what they were looking for without question.
  6. Personalization: Millennial shoppers appreciated having an “at-home experience” or residential feeling in retail spaces.
  7. Aesthetic attributes: Millennial shoppers exhibited certain design preferences for retail spaces. Some shoppers identified the color white as aesthetically pleasing and representative of “upscale,” “clean” and “modern” interiors. Another hue that drew the millennials’ interest was the color red since it signaled sales merchandise.

Her research — guided by College of Design, Construction and Planning faculty advisers Candy Carmel-Gilfilen and Margaret Portillo in the department of interior design — gathered data from students affiliated with the David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the UF Warrington College of Business. The participating students went on mobile missions, doing in-store visits and then completing follow-up surveys and focus groups.

From big box stores to single-brand apparel stores, the participants were asked to evaluate designated retail stores within a 5-mile radius from the UF campus. Calienes instructed the participants to “take a picture of anything that captures your attention, send it to me in an email and then tell me why.”

Calienes was surprised by the sheer volume of responses that millennial shoppers sent her. She received over 500 pictures of specific images, accompanied by detailed annotations averaging about 30 words, showing what captured the attention of the millennial shoppers either in a positive or negative way.

“Millennials really wanted to tell me what they liked,” she said.

Although millennials can sometimes seem paradoxical, Calienes doesn’t believe this generation is as difficult to understand as some would think.

“They’re highly educated in general and I do think they’re wanting to connect, and we’re still trying to figure out how,” she said. “But we’re getting to know them a little better.”

Calienes was recognized with the Journal of Interior Design’s Outstanding Research Award. Portillo, the college’s interim associate dean of research, applauded the study’s methodology.

“By employing a unique multimethod process, Lissy was able to get into the minds of millennials to explore how this generational cohort thinks about retail environments in a way that is quite useful to designers and retailers,” Portillo said.

Illustration by Michael McAleer/ UF Communications
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