Millennials might be one of the most overanalyzed generations of all time. So, naturally, let’s talk about them some more. But this time with our eyes toward how the millennial generation — and their proclivity for screen time, participation trophies and avocado toast — will force change across industries and the supply chains that serve them.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: The millennial generation is so connected via mobile and social, yet at the same time, totally disconnected from the reality of the world. There’s even a well-worn joke about “inviting my friends over so we can all sit in the living room and stare at our screens.” I know these are mass generalizations of an entire generation — and not very flattering ones at that. But these jokes and generalizations come from the fact that businesses and employers are all trying to get a better understanding of a generation that will comprise one-third of the workforce by 2020, and 75% of the workforce by 2025. And as they grow into their careers and take on more senior roles at businesses, millennials will gain greater buying power along the way. And the fact that we still haven’t figured out why they choose the products, entertainment or lifestyle they do, should strike fear into the hearts of even the toughest executives and their teams.
Does the next generation care about today’s business models? Do they value brand names over price, convenience or choice? Is the supply chain set up to continue delivering relevant products and services to a hyper-connected group of shoppers that has access to more information than any generation that came before them? And, what does the internet of things have to do with any of this?
Brands, retailers, food and beverage companies, and their supply chains must all be hyper-sensitive because consumers — an increasing number of which are millennials — expect and demand an unprecedented level of service, experience and digital interaction. A recent YouGov survey of millennials and how they view brands revealed that 61% of shoppers between 18 and 34 years old had switched brands over the last 12 months. And many of them cited reasons that had to do with supply chain. Whether it was product quality, in-store availability, corporate social responsibility issues or even sustainability, these young shoppers said that the things taking place behind the scenes mattered. It isn’t simply about name recognition, ad placement or even being an “it” brand, it is about showing your work and proving your products are made in a way that reflected their own distinct values. These consumers value transparency. Millennials are no longer willing to accept what they are told as the truth — they are willing to question what they’re told, and have all the tools necessary to find the answers.
Which brings us back to IoT. With the ability to connect a greater number of objects and light up parts of the supply chain that were otherwise dark, there is no excuse for not knowing exactly what’s going on in your supply chain. Brands can no longer play dumb when the world finds out one of their factories is exploiting child labor or dumping chemicals into the local water supply. Ignorance is not an option. Customers will increasingly expect brands to know what’s happening deep within their supply chain. Brands will be under the microscope, and they’ll need a means to collect and sort the massive data about their products that lives beyond the four walls of the enterprise. IoT could be the vehicle to help provide that data. And greater connectivity across the supply network, along with machine learning, will help validate that your company is upholding the high standards of an increasingly valuable customer segment.
So maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on millennials and all those strange habits that we Gen Xers and Baby Boomers struggle to understand. Perhaps I’m being generous by giving them credit for placing greater pressure on supply chain transparency, but there’s little doubt their shopping patterns and comfort with digital technology are a major catalyst in the drive for more openness and information.
The push for greater visibility and awareness of our supply chains will benefit all consumers; it will give us all the ability to make better decisions and greater influence in driving quality and sustainability among the brands we choose. It truly shifts the power to the consumer.
It is up to our brands and their supply chains to ensure they leverage the appropriate technologies and business processes to uncover the appropriate information from their networks.
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