Building a Retail Experience For Millennials / by Matt Rubin

Millennials are drawn to the downtown lifestyle. Urban living has grown all over the United States in recent years for a couple of major reasons: 

  • Safer City Centers: Downtowns in many large cities have become safer, and the construction of lofts and amenity-rich apartment buildings have made living there very appealing.

  • Changing Demographics: Pew Research from 2014 indicated that millennials are putting off marriage, so they often live alone and have no need for sprawling suburban houses and yards. And when they do have families, those families are smaller: the average family household size in 2016 was 3.21, which is down from 3.24 in 2010.

Those who choose urban living appreciate the diversity, availability of cultural activities, short commutes to work, and access to conveniences. With this shift, the traditional shopping mall is at risk of extinction.

This McKinsey & Company article outlines a few of the changes that are taking place in downtown retail areas to appeal to this unique demographic:


Millennials would rather buy experiences than physical products. Not only does this lead to greater happiness, it might also reflect the fact that these downtown lofts don't have the space for a lot of extra stuff. Entertainment also offers the immediate gratification valued by the millennial generation. Successful retail areas include space for musicians, speakers, and other events. 

Food and Drink

There is a shift toward healthier lifestyles, and the latest dining establishments reflect this interest. Vegan, gluten-free, and raw options attract new customers, including those who simply are curious about what a delicious vegan meal might look like. Adding experiential elements, like self-ordering, harvesting from a garden, or cooking your own food, adds the highly valued entertainment aspect to the meal. Vibrant downtown areas include a variety of enticing restaurants to encourage return visitors.


Again, offering an experience wins. Prana and lululemon, for example, offer free yoga classes at some of their locations. Allowing space for product testing, fashion shows, or classes that feature your products while teaching a useful skill adds value to the shopping experience and encourages shoppers to relate to you and your brand.


Parking downtown is no one's favorite activity. The article suggests implementing technology to offer parking solutions with robot parking valets or an app that helps drivers find a spot. When designing the shopping district, it's important to include an area to recharge electric cars and consider the ease of converting existing parking areas to commercial space if and when walking, biking, and efficient public transport become more common than driving a personal car.


Checking out and paying with a smartphone, using touchscreens to help people find stores and specific products, and making it easy to access customer reviews before buying will help make the shopping experience more efficient and appealing to millennials. Technology allows you to revolutionize the shopping experience, and it's essential to stay on top of changes as technology evolves. We invite you to sign up to receive regular updates on the ever-changing downtown retail trends, and to contact Crane Development to see how we can help you develop your ideal cutting-edge retail area.